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Childhood somatic complaints predict generalized anxiety and depressive disorders during young adulthood in a community sample

  • L. Shanahan (a1), N. Zucker (a2), W. E. Copeland (a2) (a3), C. L. Bondy (a1), H. L. Egger (a2) and E. J. Costello (a2)...

Abstract

Background

Children with somatic complaints are at increased risk for emotional disorders during childhood. Whether this elevated risk extends into young adulthood – and to which specific disorders – has rarely been tested with long-term prospective-longitudinal community samples. Here we test whether frequent and recurring stomach aches, headaches, and muscle aches during childhood predict emotional disorders in adulthood after accounting for childhood psychiatric and physical health status and psychosocial adversity.

Method

The Great Smoky Mountains Study is a community representative sample with 1420 participants. Children/adolescents were assessed 4–7 times between ages 9–16 years. They were assessed again up to three times between ages 19–26 years. Childhood somatic complaints were coded when subjects or their parents reported frequent and recurrent headaches, stomach aches, or muscular/joint aches at some point when children were aged 9–16 years. Psychiatric disorders were assessed with the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Assessment and the Young Adult Psychiatric Assessment.

Results

Frequent and recurrent somatic complaints in childhood predicted adulthood emotional disorders. After controlling for potential confounders, predictions from childhood somatic complaints were specific to later depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Long-term predictions did not differ by sex. Somatic complaints that persisted across developmental periods were associated with the highest risk for young adult emotional distress disorders.

Conclusions

Children from the community with frequent and recurrent physical distress are at substantially increased risk for emotional distress disorders during young adulthood. Preventions and interventions for somatic complaints could help alleviate this risk.

Copyright

Corresponding author

* Address for correspondence: L. Shanahan, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CB #3270, Davie Hall, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599-3270, USA. (Email: lilly_shanahan@unc.edu)

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