Early life events predispose the onset of childhood functional gastrointestinal disorders

Rev Gastroenterol Mex. 2013 Apr-Jun;78(2):82-91. doi: 10.1016/j.rgmx.2013.02.001. Epub 2013 Apr 8.


Background: Functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) are common digestive conditions characterized by chronic or recurrent symptoms in the absence of a clearly recognized gastrointestinal etiology. The biopsychosocial model, the most accepted concept explaining chronic pain conditions, proposes that the interplay of multiple factors such as genetic susceptibility, early life experiences, sociocultural issues, and coping mechanisms affect children at different stages of their lives leading to the development of different pain phenotypes and pain behaviors. Early life events including gastrointestinal inflammation, trauma, and stress may result in maladaptive responses that could lead to the development of chronic pain conditions such as FGIDs.

Aims: In this review, we discuss novel findings from studies regarding the long-term effect of early life events and their relationship with childhood chronic abdominal pain and FGIDs.

Methods: A bibliographic search of the PubMed database was conducted for articles published over the last 20 years using the keywords: "Functional gastrointestinal disorders", "chronic abdominal pain", "chronic pain", "gastrointestinal inflammation", and "early life events". Forty-three articles were chosen for review.

Results: Based on the current evidence, events that take place early in life predispose children to the development of chronic abdominal pain and FGIDs. Conditions that have been studied include cow's milk protein hypersensitivity, pyloric stenosis, gastrointestinal infections, and Henoch-Schonlein purpura, among others.

Conclusions: Early events may play an important role in the complex pathogenesis of functional gastrointestinal conditions. Timely intervention may have a critical impact on the prevention of this group of chronic incapacitating conditions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Causality
  • Child
  • Disease Susceptibility / complications
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / etiology
  • Humans