Functional somatic symptoms in childhood and adolescence

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Functional somatic symptoms (FSS) are common in children and adolescents, but explanatory models that synthesize research findings are lacking. This article reviews the studies published from January 2012 to March 2013 that investigate the neurophysiological mechanisms that may underlie FSS.

Recent findings

Studies from diverse medical disciplines suggest that FSS are associated with functional differences in hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal function, imbalances in vagal-sympathetic tone, upregulation of immune-inflammatory function, and primed cognitive–emotional responses that serve to amplify reactivity to threatening stimuli, thereby contributing to the subjective experience of somatic symptoms.

Summary

FSS appear to reflect dysregulations of the stress system. When seemingly disparate research findings are interpreted together within an overarching ‘stress-system’ framework, a coherent explanatory model begins to emerge.

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