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Mental health problems mistaken for physical illness in children

Many are admitted to general acute wards with mistaken for physical disease.

, such as abdominal pain, headaches, limb pain and tiredness, often mask underlying problems and result in the NHS spending money on investigations to eliminate wrongly diagnosed disease.

A literature review published in Nursing Children and Young People examines how children’s nurses can recognise such complaints and help to address them.

It identified that are linked to children’s upbringing and their home environments, including unstable home lives, a chaotic upbringing and parental over-protectiveness.

The authors suggest that nurses working on the wards are in an ideal position to identify cases of children and young people presenting with somatic symptoms and provide holistic care.

They say that nurse training and practice need to be adapted to enable somatic complaints to be diagnosed quickly and ensure correct management from the start.

The article concludes that somatic disorders can, to some extent, be predicted when nurses take into consideration issues such as poor family situations and parental influences, psychosocial stress, and poor emotional functioning.

Nurses should assess these factors together with physical symptoms to provide a full picture of a child’s circumstances and healthcare needs.


Predictors for somatic symptoms in children, Kerry Banks and Ann Bevan, Nursing Children and Young People, doi.org/10.7748/ncyp2014., February 2014.

RCN Publishing Company