Cross-sectional studies link functional abdominal pain (FAP) to anxiety and depression in childhood, but no prospective study has evaluated psychiatric status in adulthood or its relation to pain persistence.
Pediatric patients with FAP (n = 332) and control subjects (n = 147) were tracked prospectively and evaluated for psychiatric disorders and functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) at follow-up in adolescence and young adulthood (mean age = 20.01 years). Participants were classified according to presence (FGID-POS) or absence (FGID-NEG) of FGIDs at follow-up.
Lifetime and current risk of anxiety disorders was higher in FAP than controls (lifetime: 51% vs 20%; current: 30% vs 12%). Controlling for gender and age, the odds ratio was 4.9 (confidence interval = 2.83–7.43) for lifetime anxiety disorder and 3.57 (confidence interval = 2.00–6.36) for current anxiety disorder at follow-up for FAP versus controls. Lifetime risk of depressive disorder was significantly higher in FAP versus controls (40% vs. 16%); current risk did not differ. In most cases, initial onset of anxiety disorders was before pediatric FAP evaluation; onset of depressive disorders was subsequent to FAP evaluation. Within the FAP group, risk of current anxiety disorders at follow-up was significantly higher for FGID-POS versus FGID-NEG (40% vs 24%), and both were higher than controls (12%); current depressive disorders did not differ across FGID-POS, FGID-NEG, and controls.
Patients with FAP carry long-term vulnerability to anxiety that begins in childhood and persists into late adolescence and early adulthood, even if abdominal pain resolves.