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BACKGROUND: Recurrent abdominal pain (RAP) in childhood is common, with no explanatory pathology identified in the majority of cases. Previous studies have consistently demonstrated an association between childhood RAP and later emotional distress disorders. The aim of this study was to replicate this finding through the analysis of a large dataset, and explore how a negative style of thinking could potentially influence this relationship. METHODS: The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) is a population cohort of children born in the Avon area of the UK, between 1991-1992. Data on childhood RAP was collected via maternal reports at 3, 4, 7 and 9 years. Mood, anxiety and cognitive style were measured at age 18. We controlled for various confounding factors, including maternal anxiety and the child's pre-existing psychopathology. Logistic regression models were used to examine associations, and moderation effects of cognitive style were analysed using likelihood ratios. RESULTS: Experiencing RAP at any one time-point is associated with an increased odds of depression and/or anxiety disorder at 18 (OR = 1.41, 95% CI 1.09-1.83). We found a dose-response relationship and each additional marker of RAP was associated with a 26% (CI: 7% to 47%) increase in risk of having a mood and/or anxiety disorder. Individuals who attribute adversity to global, stable or personal factors were at amplified risk. CONCLUSIONS: Childhood RAP predicts depression and anxiety disorders at 18 and should be targeted for early intervention. Individuals with a negative cognitive style may be particularly vulnerable, suggesting that cognitive interpretations of physical symptoms could play an important role in long-term health outcomes.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Abdominal Pain, Adolescent, Adult, Anxiety, Child, Cognition, Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic, Depression, Humans, Longitudinal Studies, Recurrence