Research links high stress levels to noncardiac chest pain in children

A child experiencing physical pain in the chest can be an alarming situation for a parent.

A child experiencing physical pain in the chest can be an alarming situation for a parent. However, for children suffering from noncardiac chest pain, or those who consistently feel a pain emanating from or around their heart, psychological factors play an important role. Pediatric patients who have been diagnosed with this condition tend to have higher amounts of anxiety or depression, according to a new study by the University of Georgia (UGA) published in the November issue of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

Noncardiac chest pain and GERD
Unlike those adults who buy Lipitor and other cholesterol-lowering treatments to prevent symptoms that could turn into further heart complications, noncardiac chest pain is not related to heart disease. Instead, noncardiac chest pain (NCCP) only resembles heart pain, as it originates from behind the sternum, or breastbone, and is marked by high amounts of pressure, notes the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG). Of those cases diagnosed with NCPP, 60 percent are related to acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and stress is commonly associated with this diagnosis, according to ACG.

"Psychological functioning is heavily related to pain," said study co-author Ronald Blount, PhD, Franklin College. "Pain is a sensory experience, but your attention to one thing or another and your emotions can impact your experience of pain. And how debilitating the pain is for you can be determined by psychological and social factors. That is what we were interested in looking at."

The study was conducted with the support of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University and involved more than 100 pediatric patients at or below the age of 18 years old. Researchers found a significant increase in anxiety and depression in those diagnosed with NCCP, and who may have to buy Prevacid from an online pharmacy to treat the symptoms of GERD, when compared to those with non-threatening heart murmurs.

"These kids also report greater levels of physical symptoms with unclear causes, like joint pain, stomach aches, headaches," said Lee. "These symptoms are believed to be psychological manifestations of stress. Sometimes your brain doesn't tell you that you are stressed out, but your body does, so you will experience symptoms like these."

Stress testing
According to the UGA study, only 2 percent of younger patients are diagnosed with cardiac symptoms following an evaluation. A similar but unrelated study conducted by cardiology researchers at Baystate Medical Center found that stress testing, while not frequently used, could improve overall efficiency in tertiary centers with the help of electronic records by identifying those with NCCP or similar symptoms.