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One hundred and sixty-two children (57 boys and 105 girls), aged between three and 15 years and suffering from recurrent abdominal pain, were seen in general practice in Thamesmead during a seven-year period. Only five were found to have possible organic causes for the pain. Comparison with a control group showed that the close relatives of children with pain consulted doctors more often, had had more abdominal complaints and operations, a higher rate of psychiatric illness and referral, and more known marital problems. Relations between mothers and children with recurrent pain were often unstable and inconsistent. The clinical picture was unhelpful and investigation unproductive.
Recurrent abdominal pain in childhood is often a reflection of family disorder, and assessment of the state of the family should precede decisions on management.