Somatic symptoms in children with anxiety disorders: an exploratory cross-sectional study of the relationship between subjective and objective measures
OBJECTIVE To evaluate the prevalence of somatic symptoms (SSs) in children and adolescents with anxiety disorders; the relationship between SSs and anxiety severity, impairment, and child global functioning; and the impact of fluvoxamine (FLV) versus pill placebo (PBO) on reducing SSs. METHOD As part of a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 128 children (mean age, 10.8 years; range, 6-17) with DSM-IV anxiety disorders (i.e., social, separation, and generalized anxiety) were assessed by expert clinicians on 16 SSs using the Pediatric Anxiety Rating Scale. RESULTS The most common SSs at baseline were restlessness (74%), stomachaches (70%), blushing (51%), palpitations (48%), muscle tension (45%), sweating (45%), and trembling/shaking (43%). Older children (age 12 and older) reported more SSs than younger children, boys and girls reported similar numbers of SSs, and SSs were higher among children with than without generalized anxiety disorder. SSs were significantly and positively correlated with anxiety severity, impairment, and global functioning. Pre-/postreductions in SSs were statistically significant in both PBO and FLV conditions; however, FLV was superior to PBO in reducing SSs. CONCLUSIONS SSs are highly prevalent among children and adolescents with anxiety disorders and are associated with greater anxiety severity and impairment. Treatment with FLV was effective in reducing rather than increasing SSs. The high rates of SSs in youths with each of the three anxiety disorders suggest a re-evaluation of SSs in the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for the most common anxiety disorders among children and adolescents.