Pain With Acute Gastroenteritis

A recent study by the APPETITE (Alberta Provincial Pediatric EnTeric Infection TEam) describes the frequency of abdominal pain with acute gastroenteritis (AGE).

S Ali et al. J Pediatr 2021; 231: 102-109. Characterizing Pain in Children with Acute Gastroenteritis Who Present for Emergency Care

This was a prospective cohort study with 2136 patients (median age 21 months) who were recruited from 2 pediatric EDs

Key findings:

  • In the 24 hours before enrollment, most caregivers reported moderate (28.6% [610/2136, 95% CI 26.7-30.5]) or severe (46.2% [986/2136, CI 44.0-48.3]) pain for their child. 
  • In the ED, they reported moderate (31.1% [664/2136, 95% CI 29.1-33.1]) or severe ([26.7% [571/2136, 95% CI 24.9-28.7]) pain; analgesia was provided to 21.2% (452/2131). The most common analgesics used in the ED were acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

In their discussion, the authors note the need for research on the development of effective, safe, and timely pain management plans. In my view, all gut pain, especially in those with chronic conditions, needs more effective treatments.

My take: This is an interesting study as very little has been published about AGE and abdominal pain. The study’s conclusions are limited by the age of the participants.

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Cochrane Review: Probiotics NOT Proven Effective for Acute Gastroenteritis

Collinson S, Deans A, Padua-Zamora A, Gregorio GV, Li C, Dans LF, Allen SJ. Link to website with PDF availability: Probiotics for treating acute infectious diarrhoea. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2020, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD003048. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003048.pub4. Thanks to Kipp Ellsworth for this reference.

This review identified “82 studies in 12,127 people (included 11,526 children) with acute diarrhea.” Key findings:

  • The number of children with diarrhea longer than 48 hours was not different between those taking a probiotic and those taking a placebo
  • “It was unclear whether taking probiotics shortened the time spent in hospital compared with taking a placebo or no additional treatment .”

My take: Probiotics probably make little or no difference in the setting of acute gastroenteritis/diarrhea. This analysis is based on large trials with low risk of bias.

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Weak Support For Probiotics in Acute Gastroenteritis

Two recent well-controlled studies (D Schnadower et al.N Engl J Med 2018; 379:2002-2014, SB Freedman et al. N Engl J Med 2018; 379:2015-2026) showed that probiotic-treated children with acute gastroenteritis (AGE) did not have better outcomes than placebo-treated children. In addition, a recent AGA practice guideline recommended against the use of probiotics for most GI conditions, including in AGE.

However, a new report (H Szajewska et al. JPGN 2020; 71; 261-69) from an ESPGHAN  working group recommends that probiotics should have a role for AGE.  Several points about this report:

  1. Their recommendations are very qualified: “weak recommendation” with “low to very low certainty of evidence” for the following in descending order: S boulardiii, L rhamnosis GG, L reuteri DSM 17938, and L rhamnosus 19070 & L reuteri DSM 12246
  2. It is noted that this report has a disclaimer from ESPGHAN: “it does not represent ESPGHAN policy and is not endorsed by ESPGHAN”
  3. The authors have extensive disclosures
  4. The report notes that “despite large number of identified trials, we could not identify 2 randomized controlled trials of high quality for any strain that provided benefit when used for treating acute gastroenteritis”

Of note, the associated editorial (pg 146-47) also favors probiotics in the setting of AGE.  “These recommendations…have clarified that there is a role for probiotics in treating” AGE.

Related article (just published): F Mourney et al. The Pediatric Infectious Disease JournalAugust 7, 2020 – Volume Online First – Issue –doi: 10.1097/INF.0000000000002849 A Multicenter, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Saccharomyces boulardii in Infants and Children With Acute Diarrhea (n=100) Key findings: The time of recovery from diarrhea was significantly shorter in the probiotic group compared with the placebo group (65.8 ± 12 hours vs. 95.3 ± 17.6 hours, P = 0.0001).

My take: Overall, probiotic effectiveness is overstated; though, some strains may be helpful for AGE.  Still, there are concerns about variation in production and quality standards even in these strains.

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Probiotics -Lack of Efficacy for Acute Gastroenteritis (Part 2)

This blog post highlights a second study showing a lack of efficacy of probiotics for acute gastroenteritis.  Link to 2 minute Summary: Quick Take on Probiotics for AGE

My take: While some probiotic strains have been shown to be helpful in some conditions (eg. antibiotic associated diarrhea), this study indicates that probiotics are likely ineffective in altering the course of acute gastroenteritis.

SB Freedman et al. N Engl J Med 2018; 379:2015-2026 Link to abstract: Multicenter Trial of a Combination Probiotic for Children with Gastroenteritis

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One for the Probiotic Skeptics: Lack of Efficacy in Acute Gastroenteritis (Part 1)

My opinion has been that probiotics are generally over-hyped and are likely ineffective for many conditions in which they are commonly used (see related blog posts below).

A recent study (D Schnadower et al.N Engl J Med 2018; 379:2002-2014) provided more data to support this skeptical view when probiotics are utilized for acute gastroenteritis.  Another study in the same issue will be highlighted tomorrow and reaches a similar conclusion.

Link to Abstract: Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG versus Placebo for Acute Gastroenteritis in Children

METHODS: We conducted a prospective, randomized, double-blind trial involving children 3 months to 4 years of age with acute gastroenteritis who presented to one of 10 U.S. pediatric emergency departments. Participants received a 5-day course of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG … twice daily or matching placebo…

RESULTS Among the 971 participants, 943 (97.1%) completed the trial…There were no significant differences between the L. rhamnosus GG group and the placebo group in the duration of diarrhea (median, 49.7 hours in the L. rhamnosus GG group and 50.9 hours in the placebo group; P=0.26), duration of vomiting (median, 0 hours in both groups; P=0.17), or day-care absenteeism (median, 2 days in both groups; P=0.67) or in the rate of household transmission (10.6% and 14.1% in the two groups, respectively; P=0.16).

CONCLUSIONS Among preschool children with acute gastroenteritis, those who received a 5-day course of L. rhamnosus GG did not have better outcomes than those who received placebo

My take: While some probiotic strains have been shown to be helpful in some conditions (eg. antibiotic-associated diarrhea), this study indicates that probiotics are likely ineffective in altering the course of acute gastroenteritis.

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What Will They Think of Next? A Vomit Machine for Studying Norovirus!

A summary of a recent report from NBC news:

Yuck! Vomit Machine Shows Why Norovirus Spreads So Fast

Here’s an excerpt:

They used another virus called MS2 that’s similar to norovirus, that doesn’t make people sick and that’s easy to grow in the lab.,,

“We think that there’s a at least a million particles released in a vomiting event and maybe more.”

Not all of it goes into the air. In fact, very little did in their experiments. But it was enough. They estimate that as many as 13,000 virus particles can be released into the air with a single retch. They made a video that shows how it works.

“There was evidence of aerosolized MS2 after every simulated vomiting episode,” they wrote in their report, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.

People can be infected with as few as 20 to 1,300 microscopic viral particles, so their study shows that vomiting could indeed spread the infection through the air….


“There are 21 million cases of human norovirus infection in the U.S. each year, and this virus genus is now recognized as the leading cause of outbreaks of acute gastroenteritis,” the researchers wrote.

It kills up to 800 people a year in the U.S. alone and puts 70,000 into the hospital, so understanding how it spread sand finding ways to stop it could prevent many illnesses, the researchers said.

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“Low quality of evidence; strong recommendation” for Probiotics in Gastroenteritis

Recently a position paper on “Use of probiotics for management of acute gastroenteritis: a position paper by the ESPGHAN working group for probiotics and prebiotics” was published (JPGN 2014; 58: 531-39).

Two specific probiotics were recommended “strongly” but the working group describes the evidence for both as “low quality.”  This strikes me as odd.  The authors extensively reviewed previous studies and used the “GRADE” system to classify the quality of evidence and the category of recommendation.  There were 4 categories of quality of evidence: high, moderate, low and very low.  There were 2 possible recommendation categories: strong or weak.

The summary recommendations included the following:

  • Rehydration is the key treatment for AGE
  • Probiotics, overall, reduce diarrhea by approximately 1 day
  • However, probiotic effects are strain specific; findings from one probiotic cannot be extrapolated to another
  • The group recommends choosing probiotics with efficacy confirmed in well-conducted RCTs from a reputable manufacturer
  • Two specific recommended probiotics: Lactobacillus GG and Saccromyces boulardii

Take-home message: This article summarizes the available evidence for the use of probiotics in acute gastroenteritis.  Despite their classification as  “low quality of evidence,” the authors provide a strong recommendation for two probiotics (Lactobacillus GG and Saccromyces boulardii) as adjunctive therapy.

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