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Soothing Imagery May Help Rid Some Kids of Stomach Pain

(HealthDay News) -- Children who experience frequent stomach aches can use their imagination to reduce their pain, new study findings suggest.

The study included 34 participants, aged 6 to 15 years, with functional abdominal pain, which is a persistent pain with no identifiable underlying disease. All the children received standard medical care, but 19 also received eight weeks of guided imagery therapy, which is similar to self-hypnosis.

The audio recordings for the guided imagery therapy consisted of four bi-weekly, 20-minute sessions and 10-minute daily sessions. The therapy offered the children suggestions and imagery for reducing abdominal discomfort. For example, in one session they were told to imagine a special shiny object melting in their hand. They then placed the hand on their abdomen, spreading warmth and light from the hand into the belly in order to create a protective barrier that prevents anything from irritating the belly.

The children in the guided imagery group were almost three times more likely to experience improvement in their abdominal pain than those who received standard treatment alone, the researchers found. The benefits of the guided imagery lasted for six months after the end of the sessions.

"What is especially exciting about our study is that children can clearly reduce their abdominal pain a lot on their own with guidance from audio recordings, and they get much better results that way than from medical care," study lead author Miranda van Tilburg, an assistant professor in the gastroenterology and hepatology division of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and a member of the UNC Center for Functional GI and Motility Disorders, said in a university news release.

"Such self-administered treatment is, of course, very inexpensive and can be used in addition to other treatments, which potentially opens the door for easily enhancing treatment outcomes for a lot of children suffering from frequent stomach aches," she added.

The study appears in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics.

SOURCES: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, news release, Oct. 12, 2009 Published on: October 13, 2009