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In most cases, pain anywhere in the body can be explained as a symptom of some other problem, but sometimes, there is no reason for abdominal pain. This type of pain is known as chronic functional abdominal pain. This is a gastrointestinal disorder that cannot be explained through X-ray or laboratory findings. It can be triggered by altered sensitivity to nerve impulses in the brain and gut. People suffering from this condition are often so debilitated by the pain that it becomes the central focus of their life.
This condition cannot be cured, but with proper treatment, it can be managed so that it does not affect the quality of your life. The aim of treatment for this condition is to control the symptoms and improve functioning. When it comes to treating this condition, the patient’s relationship with his or her doctor plays an important role as the condition cannot be proven through any form of testing and it has a great psychological effect on the person. Regular checkups are also a key to managing this condition effectively.
The first step towards achieving this is to identify possible emotional and situational triggers. Maintaining a journal that records these experiences can help with this. Further treatment is usually either through psychological treatment or antidepressants.
Psychological treatment is based on the understanding that the brain can block pain by diverting attention elsewhere. Nerve impulses that travel from the abdomen to the brain must pass through a type of ‘gate’ that is controlled by nerve impulses generated by the brain. When these impulses close the gates, pain is blocked while when these gates are open, the pain can be magnified. Psychological treatment for chronic functional abdominal pain can be in the form of relaxation techniques, imagery, hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy. While relaxation techniques such as meditation and hypnosis help a person shift focus from the pain, cognitive behavioral therapy teaches a person how to change thoughts and perceptions in order to control the pain.
Antidepressants can also act as pain relievers. This form of medication stimulates the production of brain signals that close the ‘gates’ of nerve transmissions. This blocks the pain but can take several weeks to be effective. Some people may experience side effects such as drowsiness and nausea and hence should never be taken without a doctor’s supervision. In some cases, antidepressants may also be combined with cognitive behavioral therapy or medication to regulate bowels. If you wish to discuss about any specific problem, you can consult a Gastroenterologist.