Psychosocial interventions for recurrent abdominal pain (RAP) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in childhood

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Jan 23;(1):CD003014. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003014.pub2.


Background: Between 4% and 25% of school-age children complain of recurrent abdominal pain (RAP) of sufficient severity to interfere with daily activities. For the majority of such children, no organic cause for their pain can be found on physical examination or investigation. Although most children are managed by reassurance and simple measures, a large range of psychosocial interventions including cognitive and behavioural treatments and family therapy have been recommended.

Objectives: To determine the effectiveness of psychosocial interventions for recurrent abdominal pain or IBS in school-age children.

Search strategy: The Cochrane Library (CENTRAL) 2006 (Issue 4), MEDLINE (1966 to Dec 2006), EMBASE (1980 to Dec 2006), CINAHL (1982 to Dec 2006), ERIC (1966 to Dec 2006), PsycINFO (1872 to Dec 2006), LILACS (1982 to Dec 2006), SIGLE (1980 to March 2005), and JICST (1985 to 06/2000) were searched with appropriate filters.

Selection criteria: Any study in which the majority of participants were school-age children fulfilling standard criteria for RAP (Apley or the Rome II criteria for functional gastrointestinal diseases) , randomly allocated to any psychosocial treatment compared to standard care or waiting list, were selected.

Data collection and analysis: References identified by the searches were independently screened against the inclusion criteria by two reviewers. Data were extracted and analysed using RevMan 4.2.10.

Main results: Six randomised trials (including a total of 167 participants) of cognitive behavioural interventions were identified, with data reported in ten papers. Five studies reported statistically significant improvements in pain, measured in a variety of ways, in children randomised to receive interventions based on cognitive behavioural therapy compared to children on wait lists or receiving standard medical care (Duarte 2006; Humphreys 1998; Robins 2005; Sanders 1989; Sanders 1994). The remaining trial (Hicks 2003) included a wider group of children with recurrent pain and too few with only RAP to provide interpretable data.

Authors' conclusions: The included trials were small, with methodological weaknesses and a number failed to give appropriate detail regarding numbers of children assessed. In spite of these methodological weaknesses and the clinical heterogeneity, the consistency and magnitude of the effects reported provides some evidence that cognitive behavioural therapy may be a useful intervention for children with recurrent abdominal pain although most children, particularly in primary care, will improve with reassurance and time.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / therapy*
  • Behavior Therapy / methods
  • Child
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Dietary Fiber / therapeutic use
  • Family Therapy / methods
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Recurrence


  • Dietary Fiber