School Attendance and Functional Somatic Symptoms

posted 6 Dec 2011, 15:17 by Damian Wood   [ updated 13 Oct 2012, 11:07 ]
Most general pediatricians appreciate the connection between school absences and functional somatic complaints. Children with functional chronic pain syndromes frequently have histories of longstanding school absence—often in contrast to children with serious organic disease. There are few data, however, on the interrelatedness of these findings.

The Decmber 2011 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics provides a novel insight into this relationship. A longitudinal Dutch study, the Tracking Adolescents' Individual Lives Survey (TRAILS), assessed a large cohort of teens at three time points. A number of instruments were used, including those completed by the subjects themselves, as well as teachers and peers. One of the objects of the study was to study victimization (bullying), but the most interesting data do not directly relate to this. In the second wave of the study, school absences proved to be predictive of functional somatic complaints at the time of the third wave. Reminiscent of the concept of “school phobia” introduced by Bart Schmidt decades ago, these data raise the intriguing suggestion that addressing chronic school absenteeism may prevent the later development of functional somatic complaints. Although this was not addressed by the study, these data lay the groundwork for an interventional study.