Algorithm for “Cursed” Dyspepsia

A recent review (P Koduru et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2018; 16: 467-79) provides a good review of dyspepsia and in addition provides some literary perspective.

In their introduction, the authors quote James Joyce in Ulysses: “Tom Rochford split powder from a twisted paper into the water set before him –That cursed dyspepsia, he said before drinking. –Breadsoda is very good Davy.”

After reviewing the definition and the pathophysiology, the authors provide a suggested algorithm (Figure 2).

Initial options:

  • In areas with high H pylori, there is an option of “test and treat” and relying on endoscopy in those who fail to respond
  • Empiric PPI therapy which works best if reflux-type symptoms are present and relying on endoscopy in those who fail to respond
  • Endoscopy without empiric treatment

In those with a negative endoscopy –>functional dyspepsia treatment is driven by symptoms:

  • If pain, the first line option recommended is a tricyclic antidepressant (pain modulator)
  • If nausea, the first line option recommended is an antiemetic
  • If early satiety, the first line option recommended is buspirone

For those with resistant and disabling symptoms, “consider nonpharmacologic approaches, such as psychotherapy or acupuncture.”

Related posts:

Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications/diets (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician/nutritionist.  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.

Mirtazapine for Functional Dyspepsia

In a randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study (J Tack et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2016; 385-92) with 34 patients (29 women, median age 35.9 years), the authors showed improved dyspepsia symptom scores at weeks 4 and 8 compared with baseline.

Background: Mirtazapine is an antidepressant which is associated with weight gain and improvement in nausea.

Methods: The treatment group received 15 mg each day.


  • Compared with the control group, these was improvement in early satiety, quality of life, GI-specific anxiety, nutrient tolerance, and weight loss.
  • Two patients in the treatment group dropped out due drowsiness.  Interestingly, the trend of improvement was greater at week 4 then for week 8.
  • The authors note that epigastric pain and burning did not improve.

Limitations: small number of patients, and tertiary care patient population

My take: more studies are needed for this vexing problem

Related blog posts:

Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications/diets (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician/nutritionist.  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.

Fountain at Gibbs Gardens

Fountain at Gibbs Gardens


Will I Have This Stomach Pain Forever? (Part 2)

The article reviewed earlier today on this blog (Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2014; 12: 2026-32) has been reviewed on the AGA blog as well (some of this information is redundant from earlier post):

Here’s a link to a summary of the article: AGA blog on RAP and here’s an excerpt: Sara Horst et al investigated whether pediatric functional abdominal pain leads to functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in adulthood. They performed a longitudinal analysis of 392 children (8−16 years old) initially seen at a subspecialty clinic for recurrent abdominal pain. Horst et al assessed the contribution of gastrointestinal symptoms, extra-intestinal somatic symptoms, and depressive symptoms to FGIDs 5−15 years later. They found that on average 9 years later, 41% met symptom criteria for FGID—mostly irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia. Levels of depressive symptoms in childhood correlated a greater likelihood of FGID later in life (see figure).   The probability of FGID in adolescence or young adulthood increases with each increase in Children's Depression Inventory (CDI) score up to a score of 13—the cut-off point used in screening children for depression. At CDI scores higher than 13, the probability of FGID remained fairly constant.

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.


Why didn’t patient with documented reflux get better with PPI?

There are numerous problems with pH studies; many of these problems have been alluded to in previous blog entries (see below).  Another problem is that these studies are not highly predictive of response to therapy (Gut 2012; 61: 501-506).

This French study from three centers examined 100 consecutive patients (58 females) with an average age of 50 years.  All patients had reflux symptoms, namely regurgitation and/or heartburn.  PPI dosage was not standardized and reflux symptoms were quantified with recall questionnaires.

The authors note that up to 40% of patients with reflux symptoms have inadequate symptom relief with a 4-week course of single dose proton pump inhibitor (PPI) therapy; the aim of their study was to investigate which factors on pH probe-impedance (pH-MII) would predict a response to therapy.

Definition: Nonresponders were patients who had more than 2 days of mild symptoms per week while receiving a standard or double dose of PPI treatment for 4 weeks


  • No reflux pattern on pH-MII was associated with a response to PPIs. Table 2 in the study looked at multiple factors including SI, SAP, time for acid exposure, and number of reflux events.
  • Lower BMI (≤ 25 kg/m-squared), non-erosive reflux, and normal pH study were associated with poor PPI response
  • Other factors associated with poor PPI response: female gender, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and functional dyspepsia.
  • Response rates: 58% of individuals with BMI >25, 71% with esophagitis, 23% with functional dyspepsia, 30% with IBS
  • Among responders, 77% were receiving a single dose PPI

Some of the poor response may be related to the study population.  Only 35% had abnormal acid exposure.  In total, 67% were determined to have abnormal pH studies, though this was due to a large fraction having a positive symptom-reflux association analysis.

However, this study population likely reflects a typical clinical group of patients diagnosed with GERD and demonstrates some of the shortcomings of pH-MII in clinical practice.  Even patients with abnormal pH-MII studies, the presence of functional dyspepsia and IBS were strongly associated with PPI failure.

Previous related blog entries:

HEROES trial

Impedance recommendations from PIG

Gastroesophageal Reflux: I know it when I see it

Treating reflux does not help asthma

Unexplained chest pain

HEROES trial

HEROES is definitely a catchy acronym (Arch Intern Med 2011; 171: 1929-36); HEROES is short for Helicobacter eradication relief of dyspeptic symptoms.

In pediatric practice, when Helicobacter pylori infection is identified, efforts are made to eradicate it.  However, studies have not been conclusive about whether this is beneficial for individuals with ‘functional dyspepsia.’  A 2006 Cochrane review of 21 trials found only 6 were positive for eradication.  Previous trials had not focused on primary care patients who may be more prone to respond.  As such, the investigators randomly assigned 404 patients (adults with average age of 46 years) into a group (n=201) treated with antibiotics and a control group (n=203); this was a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial at a single center.  All eligible patients had to meet the Rome III criteria for functional dyspepsia and have H pylori infection.  Individuals with heartburn and irritable bowel were excluded. The antibiotic group received omeprazole, amoxicillin, and clarithromycin whereas the control group received omeprazole and placebo –both groups received treatment for 10 days.

In the antibiotic group, 49% achieved at least a 50% reduction in symptoms at 12 months; the control group had a 36.5% response.  Overall, 78.1% of the antibiotic cohort improved compared with 67.5% in the control cohort.

Although the findings of the study indicate improvement with a course of antibiotics, what to do with these results is not clear.  Worldwide, at least 50% of the population is infected by H pylori.  In addition, dyspeptic symptoms afflict up to 40% of the adult population in Western countries.  Due to the enormity of these problems, translating the results of this study into practical treatment strategies is difficult.

Additional references:

  • -JPGN 2011; 52: 387. Impact of Rome III criteria on yield. Still 2.8% w/o alarm symptoms that had significant endoscopic findings.
  • -Clin Gastro & Hep 2008; 6: 746. Antidepressant venlafaxine not effective in functional dyspepsia in double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. n=160.
  • -Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2006; (2): CD002096. Rx of H pylori in functional dyspepsia.
  • -Gastroenterology 2007; 133: 799. Natural hx of functional disorders: 20% persist w same Sx, 40% develop other Sx, 40% get better. Large study from Olmstead county (n=1365)
  • -Gastroenterology 2007; 132: 1684.  Changes in cerebral blood flow during gastric balloon distention in dyspepsia.
  • -Gastroenterology 2006; 130: 1466-79. Functional gastroduodenal d/o. Acid suppression is 1st line Rx.
  • -Gastroenterology 2005; 129:1753-55, 1756-80, 1711. Mgt & guidelines for dyspepsia. In pts < 55 w/o alarm sx, test for H pylori and rx c PPI. In pts who don’t respond, consider EGD. Other Rx unclear: prokinetics, anticholinergics, antidepressants.
  • -Gastroenterology 2004; 127; 1239. Review of functional dyspepsia. Rx initial c acid-blocker/prokinetic reasonable, if not helpful, consider tricyclic, or clonidine. Eliminate H pylori. Sumatriptan may help
  • -J Pediatr 2005; 146: 448, 500.  Dyspepsia in children often associated with delayed GE and reduced gastric volumes
  • -Gastroenterology 2003; 125: 1219-26. Algorithm suggested:1. chech pylori 2. Rx c PPI/H2RA.  3. If persists, EGD.  If EGD neg, consider elavil
  • -Clinical Gastro & Hepatology 2003; 1: 356. Increased Mast cells noted.
  • -Gastroenterology 2002; 123: 1778, 2132. Use of hypnosis for NUD.
  • -Ann Intern Med 2001; 134: 361-369. Meta-analysis of H pylori & NUD. Non-significant/minor improvement c eradication.