Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I have a stomache ache and can't go to school

I'm not completely sure what I think about this one. They looked at 34 kids 6 to 15 who had been diagnosed with "functional abdominal pain, defined as persistent pain with no identifiable underlying disease that interferes with activities. It is very common, affecting up to 20 percent of children." Half of the kids got guided imagery, delivered by CD at home.

The treatment consisted of a series of four biweekly (sic), 20-minute sessions and shorter 10-minute daily sessions. In session one, for example, the CD directs children to imagine floating on a cloud and relaxing progressively. The session then gives them therapeutic suggestions and imagery for reducing discomfort, such as letting a special shiny object melt into their hand and then placing their hand on their belly, spreading warmth and light from the hand inside the tummy to make a protective barrier inside that prevents anything from irritating the belly.
In the guided imagery group, 73% got better. In the control group, who got standard medical treatment, 27% got better. When they added guided imagery to the control group afterward, 58% got better. Benefits lasted  6 months in 2/3 of cases.

My problem with this begins with the diagnosis (he said, pretending to know something about physiology). There is apparently an illness that affects 20% of all kids bad enough to go to a doctor, and there is no physical correlate found for it. Not to be flip, it sounds to me like 20% of kids would rather go to a doctor than to school.

If functional abdominal pain were entirely physical, one would expect medical treatment to work better than guided imagery. If it were entirely psychosomatic, one would expect guided imagery to work better. Q.E.D. I'd like to see them replicate it with a disease with a known physical aspect, maybe cure diabetes by imagining one's blood sugar going down.

Now that I think of it, this kind of test may be useful in determining how much of a disease is psychological.  Does it get better by thinking about it in a certain way?

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