A simple talk with reassurance and support can effectively heal chronic stomach pain in children, according to a review.
The new review examined six studies including 167 children, but only five of the studies had interpretable results that the researchers could use.
Angela Heurtas-Ceballos, lead review author and consultant neonatologist at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in London said that psychosocial interventions can effectively reduce the pain.
"The most important finding here is that there seems to be some evidence of benefit of psychosocial interventions in reducing the pain of school-age children with recurrent abdominal pain," said Heurtas-Ceballos.
Previous studies also revealed that cognitive behavioural therapies help with other types of pain, but the effectiveness of CBT for this condition does not mean that the pain is really "all in the child's head."
"In recurrent abdominal pain cases, there is evidence that the pain is real," said Huertas-Ceballos, adding, however, that, "Although the main organic cause is still not clear, it seems like there is an important mental component."
In addition, some research finds that parental anxiety has a connection with the development of recurrent abdominal pain. One study found that an important difference between people who seek help for the problem and those who do not was the mother's concerns about the child's pain.
In most of the studies reviewed, in order to prevent the children from focusing on their pain to get extra attention and affection, the clinicians instructed parents to avoid "reinforcing" the pain in this way. Instead, parents learned to give positive attention when the child copes well.
"This technique shows some evidence of benefit mainly because pain eases when the muscle relaxes, and this therapy includes relaxation or distraction techniques," she said.
Many children worry that the pain means that something is seriously wrong with them, because of their parents' anxieties over it. This fear can enhance their pain. In this context, CBT teaches parents to reassure their children and encourages the children to reassure themselves that this pain is not a sign of danger or injury.
The review appears in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library.