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June 1955

Psychosomatic Gastrointestinal Problems in Children

Author Affiliations

Kansas City, Mo.
From the Psychiatric Unit, The Children's Mercy Hospital, affiliated with the Greater Kansas City Mental Health Foundation and the Department of Pediatrics, the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

AMA Am J Dis Child. 1955;89(6):717-724. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1955.02050110857009

The gastrointestinal tract is characterized by three variable physiologic functions: motility, vascularity, and secretion. These three functions may vary, from a normal base-line of activity, in either an overactive or an underactive direction. Overactivity leads to hypermotility, vascular engorgement, and excessive secretion; underactivity leads to hypomotility, vascular pallor, and minimal secretion. It is generally felt that these states are mediated through the rich innervation of the gastrointestinal tract with both sympathetic and parasympathetic elements of the autonomic nervous system.

Extensive experimental work has shown that the most significant factors in varying states of motility, vascularity, and secretion appear to be emotional ones.* These three functions may change rapidly, within minutes, depending on the emotional state of the subject. Feelings of marked anxiety, unexpressed or unaware anger and resentment, and frustrated needs for affection may lead to hypermotility, hypervascularity, and hypersecretion. States of depression, abject loneliness and isolation, and apathy may