Objectives. The aims of the study were to determine whether the prevalence of children's somatic symptoms, such as headache, abdominal pain, other pain, and nausea and vomiting, changed from 1989 to 1999 and to study the similarity of parents' and children's reports of the child's symptoms. Furthermore, the aims were to explore possible comorbidity in somatic symptoms and to investigate the associations between somatic and psychiatric symptoms.

Methods. Two cross-sectional, representative samples were compared. All children born in 1981 (1989 sample, n = 985) and 1991 (1999 sample, n = 962) and living in selected school districts in southwest Finland served as study samples. The response rate for the 1989 sample was 95% and that for the 1999 sample was 86%. Both children and parents were asked about the children's somatic symptoms, whereas parents, children, and teachers were asked about psychiatric symptoms. To study psychiatric symptoms, the Children's Depression Inventory and Rutter's parent and teacher scales were used.

Results. The prevalence of frequent headaches and abdominal pain increased somewhat from 1989 to 1999. Parents often failed to recognize their children's psychosomatic problems. Child-reported somatic symptoms were associated with conduct and hyperactivity symptoms, in addition to a previously well-documented association with depression. In associations between somatic symptoms and psychiatric symptoms, there were some differences between the 1989 and 1999 samples.

Conclusions. In clinical work, questions about somatic and psychiatric symptoms should also be addressed to children themselves, because parents and teachers do not always recognize children's symptoms. When somatic problems are being evaluated, psychiatric symptoms should be asked about, and vice versa. More research is needed to explore the reasons for the increased prevalence of somatic symptoms and their associations with psychiatric symptoms.

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