Brave New World: Psychotropic Manipulation & Pediatric Functional GI Disorders

A recent review (JPGN 2014; 59: 280-87) provides helpful advice for the use of psychotropic medications in pediatric functional GI disorders.  That being said, a couple key caveats need to be stated first and foremost:

  • “A minority of psychotropic drugs has been studied in children and safety data remain inadequate.  Psychotropic drugs used for gastrointestinal symptoms in pediatric patients will be off-label for the foreseeable future.”
  • “Descriptions of individual drugs in the present review are too brief to provide accurate guidance to someone who is not already familiar with them.”

Given the limited data, the authors, in my opinion, bravely state recommendations regarding these medications.  Despite their common usage, providing explicit recommendations is quite uncommon.  The title of the blog references Aldous Huxley’s book which discusses psychological manipulation.  This book in turn is titled after a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Act V, Scene I (from Wikipedia):

“O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’s.”

Back to the review of psychotropic medications, the authors provide a rationale/pathophysiologic mechanism for the use of these drugs mainly for recurrent abdominal pain and chronic nausea/dyspepsia.  Table 1 lists the authors’ specific suggestions regarding first to fourth choices:

  • For abdominal pain, first choice was amitriptyline, followed by gabapentin, clonidine patch, and SSRI.
  • For nausea/dyspepsia,  first choice was amitriptyline, followed by mirtazapine, buspirone, and clonazepam.
  • For d-IBS,  first choice was amitriptyline, followed by alosetron [not a psychotropic], clonidine patch, and SSRI.
  • For c-IBS (along with polyethylene glycol),  first choice was imipramine, followed by lubiprostone [not a psychotropic], gabapentin, and SSRI.

Table 2 provides dosing suggestions, and common adverse effects.  For example, with amitriptyline, suggested dose is 10-50 mg qhs and “best to begin low dose…titrate up by response.” Other suggestions:

  • SSRIs: “should begin with low dose; titrate up by response.  With SSRIs, benefit is usually apparent after 4 to 6 wk.  Most GI adverse effects disappear in 1 to 2 wk.”
  • Mirtazapine: 7.5 mg dosing for sleep, 15-30 mg qAM for nausea/dyspepsia (higher dose is usually not sedating.  “Few drug interactions; safer than TCAs.” Weight gain is common.
  • Buspirone: 10-60 mg/day, divided twice daily; “may start with half dose in the morning.” Avoid grapefruit juice. Can “used alone or in combination with SSRIs or TCAs.”
  • Gabapentin (100 mg BID to 800 mg TID). “Rare adverse effects include drowsiness and blurred vision…Safe but only effective in about one-third of patients.”
  • Recommends that second-generation antipsychotics (quetiapine, risperidone, and olanzapine) be used only in collaboration with child psychiatry (Figure 2)

Additional pointers:

TCAs:“In RCTs, among children with functional abdominal pain, both amitriptyline and placebo were associated with an excellent therapeutic response.”  It is interesting to note the authors lack of critical comments regarding this statement.  “The usual dose of amitriptyline for chronic functional pain is 1 mg/kg/day up to a maximum of 50 mg/day.”

TCAs and EKGs: “at doses <1 mg/kg/day used to treat chronic pain and nausea, there have been no reports of death or cardiac arrhythmias in >60 years.  An EKG before starting a TCA is unnecessary in otherwise healthy children and adolescents, but may be advisable in those with a personal or family history of corrected QT interval prolongation or heart disease, or in children requiring a dose >50 mg/day.”

TCAs: some tricyclics may be less sedating and constipating including imipramine, doxepin, and nortriptyline.  The later two also come in liquid formulations.

SSRIs: “may be used in combination with TCAs in teens and adolescents…using them simultaneously may increase serum concentrations of both.” “In children there was a single RCT showing citalopram superior to placebo in IBS. Some clinicians obtain an EKG assessing corrected QT interval before initiating citalopram doses >20 mg daily.”

Clonidine has “improved diarrhea-predominant IBS…Common adverse effects include dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness, and tiredness…checking blood pressure at each clinic visit [is recommended].” It is available as a patch (0.1-0.3 mg/wk).

Melatonin: dosed 3- to 10-mg at bedtime can promote sleep.

Take-home message: This article provides practical advice for the use of these agents.  Discussion with patients and parents regarding the role of these medications in targeting CNS arousal which perpetuates disabling chronic symptoms is crucial as well.  More studies are needed to determine conclusively their effectiveness.

Related blog posts:

Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician.  This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition.


17 thoughts on “Brave New World: Psychotropic Manipulation & Pediatric Functional GI Disorders

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