Intractable Abdominal Pain

Intractable abdominal pain in children is stomach pain that continues even after multiple testing and interventions have been done. It may be constant, or it may come and go. It is also called functional abdominal pain.

If your child has intractable abdominal pain, you may be frustrated by the lack of answers. Parents choose Boston Children’s Hospital to gain a deeper understanding of what might be causing their child’s pain. Located within our GI Motility Center, Boston Children’s Functional Abdominal Pain program specializes in:

  • Identifying the triggers for pain
  • Pain control
  • Nutrition planning
  • Psychotherapy
  • Rehabilitation

Our collaborative team includes a gastroenterologist, psychologist, pain specialist, nutritionist and a social worker. We are also the only hospital in the country that has a dedicated pain specialist (Dr. Neil Schechter) as part of its GI Motility center.

What Are the Symptoms of Intractable Abdominal Pain?

Children with intractable abdominal pain may experience diarrhea, constipation or both. This condition may be related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Our Approach to Diagnosing Intractable Abdominal Pain

Intractable abdominal pain can be difficult to diagnose because it is not a result of another condition—the pain is the condition. Our doctors will provide a systematic and thorough evaluation of your child to understand the triggers of the pain. Most patients do not require testing, but when it is deemed necessary it may include:

  • Blood, urine and stool tests
  • Abdominal X-rays
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Endoscopy/colonoscopy: This procedure involves the use of a thin and lighted tube placed through the nose or mouth into the esophagus to "see" inside the esophagus.
  • CT scan: A non-invasive procedure that uses X-ray equipment and powerful computers to create detailed, cross-sectional images.

Our team seeks to understand the nature of the pain and to minimize invasive testing or approaches. Our main objective is to relieve your child of his or her pain and give him or her the ability to return to school, sports and social activities.

We will also look beyond the abdominal pain to see how it may be related to other symptoms that may occur simultaneously. Your child may be suffering from multiple, interrelated problems, such as:

  • Heightened sensitivity to light, sound or diet
  • Fatigue or sleep disorders
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Joint pains

Our integrated team of GI doctors, pain specialists, psychiatrists and social workers will also address overlapping physical and psychological conditions that your child may be experiencing. Meet our GI motility team.

Treating Intractable Abdominal Pain

At Boston Children’s, you will receive a thorough explanation of your child’s abdominal pain and treatment plan. Treatment options may include:

  • Multidisciplinary rehabilitation
  • Cognitive behavioral treatments
  • Pain control
  • Physical therapy
  • Nutrition advice
  • Treatment of associated symptoms and problems
  • Identification and treatment of specific triggers of the pain
  • Reintegration to school

Learn more about our GI motility treatments and approach at Boston Children’s.

Make an Appointment

For an appointment, more information or to obtain a second opinion for your child, please contact the Motility and Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Center at 617-355-6055 or request an appointment online.