How Effective are the Treatments for Functional Abdominal Pain?

According to a recent systematic review (Korterink JJ et al. J Pediatr 2015; 166: 424-31), “there is no evidence to support routine use of any pharmacologic therapy” for pediatric functional abdominal pain (FAP).  How many pediatric gastroenterologists want to discuss this conclusion with their patients?

How did the authors reach their conclusion?

Design: The authors screened 557 articles and ultimately identified only four articles with a total of 6 studies met inclusion criteria which included the following:

  • systemic review or randomized control trial
  • children 4-18 years
  • diagnosis of FAP established with well-defined criteria
  • intervention was compared to placebo or alternative treatment

Results: All of the studies were reviewed –each received an overall quality rating by the authors as “very low.” The particular treatments included amitriptyline, peppermint oil, famotidine, miralax, tegaserod, and cyprohepatadine.  The study with the most patients had only 90 patients and the longest treatment period was 4 weeks.

In the discussion, the authors make several key points:

  • there is a lack of adequately powered, high-quality, placebo-controlled drug trials in children with FAP
  • weak evidence was found in support of peppermint oil, cyproheptadine, and laxatives at reducing pain; amitriptyline and famotidine had weak evidence supporting some improvement in global symptoms or quality of life.
  • problems with the studies: small sample sizes, poorly reported side effects, lack of follow-up, risk of bias
  • “several nonpharmacologic therapies (e.g.. hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy) have shown their efficacy in treating children with” FAP…with success rates up to 85%.  Moreover, these therapies are not hampered by severe side effects.”

Bottomline: Our office-based psychologist may be more helpful for our patients than all the medications combined.

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Amplified Pain Syndromes in Children

A recent review (Curr Opin Rheumatol 2014; 23: 1-12 -thanks to our pain team for sending reference) makes a number of important points regarding the pathogenesis and management of amplified pain syndromes (APS).

Table 1 lists the diagnosis and pain presentations.  These include complex regional pain syndromes, juvenile fibromyalgia, diffuse idiopathic pain, concomitant conditions (including irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, interstitial cystitis, chronic headache, functional abdominal pain, and conversion symptoms/disorder).

Key points:

  • Pediatric APS are widespread and under-recognized
  • Pathophysiology is complex with numerous contributors “including central sensitization, abnormal cytokine production, sympathetic-sensory disorders, autoimmune responses, altered blood flow, genetic predisposition, and psychosocial factors.”
  • The clinical effectiveness of medication management in pediatric APS remains unclear and controversial.”  It is noted that preoperative gabapentin and pregabalin may reduce the incidence of chronic post surgical pain (in adults); this has not been documented in a pediatric population.
  • Exercise-based and cognitive-based treatments remain the cornerstone of therapy.” Intensive multidisciplinary pain rehabilitation “restores functioning rapidly, reduces pain in the long run, improves comorbid psychological distress, and reduces medical utilization.”
  • Potential elements of treatment noted in Table 2 (geared more towards rheumatology), including exercise, desensitization, self-regulation (eg. diaphragmatic breathing, guided imagery), and stress management/counseling.

Bottomline: For children with severe pain symptoms, multidisciplinary pain teams can be very helpful.  However, there is not a simple pill that will fix everything.

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