Is functional pain more common in children with Celiac disease?

A recent study adds information to the title question but does not resolve it (J Pediatr 2013; 162: 505-09).

The authors note that they expected to find a higher prevalence of abdominal pain and abdominal pain/functional gastrointestinal disorders among children with diagnosis of celiac disease.  They note that functional disorders have been more common after acute gastroenteritis and cow’s milk hypersensitivity of infancy presumably due to preceding inflammation.  Persistent low-grade intestinal inflammation and immune activation have been proposed as precipitating susceptibility to functional abdominal pain.

In this small retrospective study, a statistically significant difference in functional GI disorders was not observed.  Enrolled families were contacted by telephone at least 6 months after the diagnosis of Celiac disease.  They completed a telephone questionnaire and a separate Rome III questionnaire.

Celiac cases (n=49):  abdominal pain (24.5%), functional abdominal pain (4.8%), IBS (6.1%), dyspepsia (4.8%), abdominal migraine (4.8%), nonspecific abdominal pain (6.1%)

Control cases (n=48): abdominal pain (14.6%), functional abdominal pain (6.3%), IBS (2.1%), nonspecific abdominal pain (6.1%)

Given the question that the authors were trying to answer, this study was unlikely to be helpful.  Problems with the study:

  • The biggest problem is the small number of patients.
  • Cross-sectional design
  • Reliance of recall symptoms
  • Lack of information on dietary adherence
  • Collection of information from only parents contributed

Bottomline: While screening for celiac disease is common in patients with possible functional abdominal pain, treatment with a gluten-free diet may not resolve these symptoms. Functional abdominal pain is at least as common in children with celiac disease as in the general population.

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