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Can children imagine pain away?

13th October 2009

Children who frequently experience abdominal pain can use their imagination to counteract it, according to recent US research.

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The children were asked to listen to a CD which helped them to relax by asking them to imagine themselves in various scenarios, such as floating on top of clouds.

Because children have particularly vivid imaginary experiences, the technique worked well in treating children's' frequent abdominal pains.

According to current estimates, about one in five children suffers from frequent stomach pains for reasons doctors do not understand.

Thirty children in total took part in the study, half of whom used CDs with the guided visualisations every day, and half of whom were given normal treatment by a paediatrician.

For the purposes of the study, each child was given a 20-minute session during which they were asked to imagine things that would make them forget their stomach pains.

In one of the sessions, the child was asked to imagine that they were letting something shiny melt into their palm, which they then placed upon their stomach to warm and comfort it.

Of the children who used the CDs to aid their abdominal pains, 73.3% were able to improve their well-being by at least half, and more than half of these children went on to show improvements during the next six months.

Of the fifteen others, only about a quarter were able to achieve similar results.

While researchers do not know how the visualisations help children's' pain responses, there is nonetheless a direct effect on the pain signals in their bodies.

Some scientists think that the good results may have to do with reducing anxiety or hypersensitivity.

Miranda van Tilburg, who led the study, said that self-administered treatment is very inexpensive and can be used in addition to other treatments.

She said that, since children are very good at using their imaginations, which may open the door for treatment for a lot of children suffering from frequent stomach aches.

David Candy of Western Sussex Hospitals said that there was a dearth of information on how to manage children with abdominal pain.

He said that it is a very common problem which keeps children out of school.

Other studies have shown that hypnosis is a good way to treat a spectrum of different abdominal pains, including irritable bowel syndrome.

 

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