CAM Use in Functional Abdominal Pain

From Journal of Pediatrics Twitter Feed

SL Ciciora et al. J Pediatr 2020; 227: 53-59. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use in Pediatric Functional Abdominal Pain Disorders at a Large Academic Center

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Favorite Posts of 2020

These are some of my favorite posts of the past year.








From Picnic Island, Tampa Bay

Abdominal Pain in Children Increases With Age and With Psychological Factors

A recent study (MP Jones et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2020; 18: 360-7) provides granular data on a well-recognized phenomenon: stomach pain is more common in older children than younger children and is associated with psychosocial factors.

Design: “All Babies in Southeast Sweden” Study with 1781 children (born 1997-99).  Families answered questionnaires at birth, 1 year, 2.5 years, 5 years, 8 years and 10-12 years.

Key findings:

  • Abdominal pain prevalence increased linearly with age -each year the rate increased .  At 2 yrs, the prevalence was ~6%, at 5 yrs ~8%, at 8 yrs ~9.5%, and at 12 yrs ~12% (Figure 2)
  • Psychosocial factors associated with abdominal pain included lower emotional control at 2 yrs of age, parental concern for child at 2 yrs of age, and measures of parental stress.

My take: This study reinforces the idea that psychosocial factors increase the development of non-organic abdominal pain.  If they could be addressed better, GI clinics would be less busy.

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Old Well, UNC Chapel Hill, Fall

Colonoscopy and Isolated Abdominal Pain = Low Value Care

A recent study (HK Singh, LC Ee. JPGN 2019; 68: 214-7) reviewed a single center’s colonoscopy data (n=652) from 2011-15 with a focus on patients who underwent this procedure for abdominal pain.

Key findings:

  • Only 15 patients had isolated abdominal pain as an indication. In total 68 patients had abdominal pain as an indication but the majority had other ‘red flags’ such as rectal bleeding, family history of IBD or polyposis, weight loss, anemia, food allergy, or altered bowel habits
  • None of these 15 patients with isolated abdominal pain had organic disease
  • Among 36 patients with a measured fecal calprotectin and abdominal pain, all with elevated levels had positive histologic findings.
  • The ileal intubation rate/biopsy rate was 92.4%

I was particularly interested in this study because our group has reviewed our clinical experience in a large cohort undergoing outpatient colonoscopy (findings will be presented this fall).  Our group has a similar ileal intubation rate and a low rate of organic disease in those with isolated abdominal pain.

My take: More efforts are needed to carefully select pediatric patients undergoing endoscopy to minimize low value procedures.

Related blog posts:

Georgia Aquarium

NASPGHAN Postgraduate Course 2017 (Part 5): Refractory constipation, Extraesophageal GERD, POTS, Recurrent Abdominal Pain

This blog entry has abbreviated/summarized these presentations. Though not intentional, some important material is likely to have been omitted; in addition, transcription errors are possible as well.

Here is a link to postgraduate course syllabus: NASPGHAN PG Syllabus – 2017

The child with refractory constipation

Jose Garza   GI Care for Kids & Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Key points:

  • Polyethylene glycol is a first-line agent and many patients require cleanout at start of therapy
  • Adequate dose of laxative is needed for sure regular painless stools
  • Don’t stop medicines before toilet training and until pattern of regular stooling established. “All symptoms of constipation should resolve for at least one month before discontinuation of treatment”
  • Gradually reduce laxatives when improved
  • An abdominal xray is NOT recommended to make the diagnosis of constipation
  • Do you have the right diagnosis? Irritable bowel is often confused with constipation.  With constipation, the pain is relieved after resolution of constipation.
  • Outlet dysfunction. Stimulant laxatives (eg. Senna) are probably underutilized. Biofeedback may help in older children.
  • Slow transit constipation. Newer prosecretory agents may be helpful –lubiprostone and linaclotide.
  • Organic constipation. Hirschsprung’s, Spina bifida, anorectal malformations etc. Testing: anorectal manometry, rectal biopsy (for Hirschsprung’s)
  • For refractory disease, consider rectal therapy –suppositories, transanal irritagations/enemas (~78% success for fecal incontinence/constipation). These treatments should be used prior to surgical therapy (eg. Malone antegrade continence enema/cecostomy)



The quest for the holy grail: Accurately diagnosing and treating extraesophageal reflux

Rachel Rosen   Boston Children’s Hospital

Key points:

  • It is frequent that EGD or impedance study will be abnormal, though this may not be causally-related.
  • No correlation with ENT exams/red airways and reflux parameters
  • No correlation with lipid laden macrophages and reflux parameters
  • No correlation with salivary pepsin and reflux parameters


  • Lansoprazole was not effective for colic or extraesophageal symptoms (Orenstein et al J Pediatrics 2009)
  • PPIs can increase risk of pneumonia/respiratory infections
  • Macrolides have been associated with increased risk of asthma but may be helpful for pulmonary symptoms
  • Fundoplication has not been shown to be effective for reducing aspiration pneumonia.  Fundoplication could increase risk due to worsened esophageal drainage.
  • ALTEs (BRUEs -brief resolved undefined events) need swallow study NOT PPIs

POTS and Joint Hypermobility: what do they have to do with functional abdominal pain?

Miguel Saps  University of Miami

Key points:

  • Patients with POTS and joint hypermobility have frequent functional abdominal pain as well as other comorbidities
  • Beighton Score can determine if joint hypermobility is present
  • Brighton Score determines if hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is present
  • Patients with frequent fatigue.  Gradual progressive and regular exercise is important part of therapy.  Can start with recombant exercise – training bicycle exercise, swimming
  • Need to push salt intake and fluds

Do I need to test that C.R.A.P.?

Rina Sanghavi   Children’s Medical Center Dallas

This basic talk reviewed a broad range of issues related to functional abdominal pain.

Key points:

  • Carnett’s sign can help establish abdominal pain as due to abdominal wall pain rather than visceral pain
  • What is an appropriate evaluation?  Limited diagnostic testing for most patients.
  • Alarm symptoms include: Fevers, Nocturnal diarrhea, Dysphagia, Significant vomiting, Weight Loss/poor growth, Delayed Puberty, and Family history of IBD

Erythema Ab Igne

A few years ago I saw a patient with a similar rash (BF Curtis et al. Gastroenterol 2017; 153: 355-6) and texted a picture to a dermatology colleague who quickly asked me whether my patient was using heating packs/heating pads on her abdomen.

This rash, termed, “erythema ab igne,” develops due to excessive heat exposure.  Also, it has been called “toasted skin syndrome.”  Over time, if heat is not continued to abdomen, in most cases, the skin reverts to normal in this benign asymptomatic condition.



Use of Antidepressant Medications to Treat Recurrent Abdominal Pain

A recent study (C AM Zar-Kessler et al. JPGN 2017; 65: 16-21) retrospectively reviewed a single center’s 8 year experience (2005-2013) using antidepressant medications to treat nonorganic abdominal pain. Of 531 cases, 192 initiated treatment with either a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) or a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA).

Key findings:

  • 63 of 84 (75%) of SSRI-treated patients improved; 56 of 92 (61%) of TCA-treated patients improved.  The higher response rate to SSRIs persisted after control for psychiatric factors.
  • A much higher percentage of SSRI-treated patients, compared to TCA-treated patients, had anxiety (49% vs 22%); an additional 15% and 5%, respectively, had combined anxiety/depression.
  • The most common SSRI in this study was citalopram with median dose of 10 mg (range 5-60 mg).
  • The most common TCA in this study was nortriptyline with median dose of 20 mg (range 10-50).
  • Similar numbers of patients in each group had adverse effects, include 21 (25%) of SSRI-treated patients and 20 (22%) of TCA-treated patients.  14% of SRRI-treated patients discontinue medication due to adverse effects, compared with 17% of TCA-treated patients.
  • Mood disturbances were higher in this study among TCA-treated patients: 14% compared with 6% of SSRI-treated patients
  • TCAs were prescribed by gastroenterologists in 88% of cases; with SSRIs, only 39% of prescriptions were from gastroenterologists.

In the discussion, the authors note that “all patients who experienced GI adverse effect were prescribed medications that would worsen their underlying bowel complaint…these issues may have been mitigated if more attention was paid” to this.  “Specifically, TCAs should be used cautiously in those with constipation, whereas SSRIs should be avoided in those with diarrhea.”

My take: This study shows that both classes of antidepressants were associated with improvement.  The conclusions about effectiveness are limited as this is a retrospective study and could not control/evaluate many variables. That being said, particularly if there is coexisting anxiety, as was frequent in this study population, a SSRI may be more effective.

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.

Tynn Church, Prague


Abdominal Pain -Placebo Effect and Celiac Effect

Briefly noted:

  • DR Hoekman et al. J Pediatr 2017; 182: 155-63.
  • M Saps et al. J Pediatr 2017; 182: 150-54.

In the first study, Hoekman et al identified 21 studies to determine the placebo response in pediatric abdominal pain-related functional GI disorders.  The authors found a pooled response to placebo of 41% (improvement) and resolution with placebo occurred in 17%.

The second study examined 289 children (55% U.S., 45% Italy) comparing the frequency of functional GI disorders in children with celiac disease on a gluten free diet compared with controls.  Overall, chronic abdominal pain was present in 30.9% of subjects with celiac disease compared with 22.7% of sibling controls and 21.6% of unrelated controls. This did not reach statistical significance.

Related post: Is functional pain more common with celiac disease?

Sawnee Mountain

Yoga Therapy for Abdominal Pain

A recent study (JJ Korterink et al. JPGN 2016; 63: 481-7) showed that yoga treatment may be helpful with children (8-18 years) with functional abdominal pain.  The authors studied 69 subjects who received either standard medical care or standard care with yoga therapy.  Pain intensity was followed with a pain dairy as was quality of life with KIDSCREEN-27. Key finding: At 1 year follow-up, 58% of the yoga group had a treatment response compared to 29% in the control group.  Yoga therapy was associated with reduction in school absences as well as reduced abdominal pain.

While yoga is considered helpful in stress management and has been suggested as treatment for adults with irritable bowel, an associated editorial by Yvan Vanderplas (pg 451) notes that the scientific basis for yoga therapy remains weak. He notes that yoga trials are biased due to selection bias and the results are tainted due to lack of blinding with regard to the intervention.

My take: If families are interested in yoga therapy, this should be encouraged.  Yoga therapy is safer and at least as effective as many other therapies offered for abdominal pain.



Advice on Abdominal Pain for Everyone Who Cares for Children

A recent editorial (MK Farrell. J Pediatr 2016; 177: 16-17) provides many useful pointers from a master clinician along with commentary on an epidemiology study of recurrent abdominal pain (ML Lewis et al. J Pediatr 2016; 177: 39-43).

The main finding of the study which used an internet survey of mothers (children 4-18) was that 23% of US children met the Rome III criteria for a functional GI disorder.  Constipation was the most common.

Key points in commentary:

  • John Apley’s monograph The Child with Abdominal Pains “should be read by all who care for children.”
  • Worldwide prevalence of functional GI disorders has been estimated to be 13%. Peak ages were 4-6 years and early adolescence with a greater prevalence in females
  • “A variety of phamacologic and nonpharmacologic treatments have been proposed, but none have been consistently effective except perhaps cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnotherapy.”
  • “Negative studies are not reassuring” [to families]

Pithy observations from Apley:

  • “The more time the doctor spends on the history, the less time he is likely to spend on treatment.”
  • “Doctors who treat the symptoms tend to file a prescription. Doctors who treat the patient are more likely to offer guidance.”
  • “It is a fallacy that a physical symptoms always has a physical cause and needs a physical treatment.”
  • “Anxiety like courage is contagious.”

My take: Dr. Farrell urges more research focus on interventions (diet, behavioral, alternative therapies, medical treatments) to improve outcomes and less focus on epidemiology.

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.

The Lawn, University of Virginia

The Lawn, University of Virginia