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Anxiety and Stress Disorders

Trauma, Stress, and Stomach Pain

06/17/2004

Question:

My stepdaughter, age 14, runs to us several times during the day, and every night before going to bed saying she thinks she is getting sick to her stomach. At first it was just a game, but now it has progressed to the point that it is unbearable. We have recently obtained custody of her from her mother, who is an alcoholic, manic-depressive person. Her mother took her to see a irreputable doctor, who put my stepdaughter on a high dosage of Zoloft, which did nothing but make her a walking zombie. We finally convinced her that she didn`t need it and it wasn`t helping her and eventually got her off of it. Once she gets these thoughts of `getting sick` into her head, the supposed pain elevates or if she starts doing something fun, it leaves. In our opinion, it is mot real pain, but she knows he real mother cannot handle the pressure and pays more attention to her, taking her to other doctors. I was able to get through to my stpedaughter for a while, but she is so messed up in the head and thinks she has to have medicine for her feelings. We went from peppermint, to pepto bismol, to tums, to Pepcid A/C to Gas X & nothing worked anymore with her. She eats very little & weighs only 100 lbs, 5 feet tall. I try to explain to her that she needs to eat but she refuses. If you asked me she will become an anorexia victim. Can you advise us as to what to do? She is going with her dad to another doctor today to see if we can either find out if there really is a medical problem or if the doctor will concur with us about it being psychological. Thank you for your input.

Answer:

Your stepdaughter has experienced some major traumas in her life, and is dealing with them in perhaps the only way she knows how.  It is important for you and the rest of the family to receive some family counseling to understand and learn how to deal with this new person in your family.

As long as she is feeling the pain, it is real in some sense to her.  It may not be coming from an ulcer or an infection, but she is experiencing some problem that is leading her to have this pain.  Your job, as her parents, is to work with her to find ways to deal with the pain, and provide her opportunities for healing and recovery.

A physical exam with a physician you trust and respect is a good first step.  Then you need to find a family counselor or mental health professional for your stepdaughter and yourselves.  She may be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or other emotional illnesses that need to be evaluated, treated and monitored.

Good luck to all of you.  This will probably be a stressful transition for you, but I think you all stand an excellent chance of becoming a stronger family in the future.

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Response by:

Nancy   Elder, MD Nancy Elder, MD
Associate Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati