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A prospective community-based study of gastroenterological symptoms in school-age children.

INTRODUCTION: Current knowledge on the prevalence of common gastrointestinal (GI) problems is based on office-based samples or retrospective questionnaires, leading to possible bias and inaccurate estimates.

AIMS: To examine the prevalence of GI symptoms in school-age children.

IMPORTANCE: This is the first American prospective community study intended to assess the prevalence of common GI symptoms in children.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: All fourth- and fifth-grade students from a middle-size urban school were invited to participate in a prospective cohort pilot study by completing confidential weekly surveys. The survey included a set of 8 age-appropriate, validated questions assessing the presence and severity of abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, headaches and limb pain.

RESULTS: A total of 48 children (32 boys and 16 girls) participated in the study. Data were obtained for 16 weeks on 690 (90.5%) of 768 possible children per week. Children reported at least 1 symptom in 544 (70%) children per week. Headaches were the most common complaint (55% [range, 40%-72%] children per week). Sixty percent of children (range, 46%-89%) reported at least 1 GI symptom weekly. The overall prevalence of GI symptoms was the following: abdominal pain 46% (range, 28%-72%), nausea 28% (range, 17%-59%), constipation 18% (range, 7%-39%), diarrhea 17% (range, 11%-24%) and vomiting 5% (range, 0%-13%). None of the children missed school because of persistent GI symptoms during the study.

DISCUSSION: The investigation demonstrates the feasibility of prospective school studies in children. The high prevalence of GI symptoms not interfering with school attendance in children underscores the benign nature of such symptoms in most children.

CONCLUSION: Gastrointestinal symptoms are common somatic complaints among school-age children.

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