Course of Functional Abdominal Pain Before and During Pandemic

C Strisciuglio et al. JPGN 2021; 73: 689-694. Overall Impact of Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak in Children With Functional Abdominal Pain Disorders: Results From the First Pandemic Phase

In this multicenter, observational, international study conducted between April and July 2020 at six different referral centers, the authors studied two groups:

  1. Children diagnosed with FAPDs between October 2019 and February 2020 were enrolled and prospectively interviewed at 4 months of follow-up during the first pandemic phase (Quarantine group, n=180, mean age 14 yrs)
  2. A cohort of children diagnosed with FAPDs between October 2018 and February 2019 was used as a Control group, n=176, mean age 13 yrs)

Key findings:

  • At 4 months of follow-up, both groups had a significant reduction of children reporting >5 episodes of abdominal pain per month when compared to baseline. Quarantine group: 63.9% vs 42.2%, P < 0.001; Control group: 83.5% vs 50%, P < 0.001.
  • Overall, 57% of the Quarantine group and 63.5% of the Control group had improvement of all symptoms.

My take: This study shows that the majority of patients with functional abdominal pain have improvement (at least temporarily) and reinforce the benefit of reassurance/conservative approach for many even during the pandemic. It is possible that school closures and additional parental attention mitigated some of the improvement in the Quarantine group.

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Siesta Key, FL

Carlo DiLorenzo: Lessons Learnt Over 30 Years

Recently, Carlo DiLorenzo came to Atlanta as the speaker for the William Meyers Lectureship. He provided a terrific talk and was the perfect speaker for this lectureship which honors Billy.

Some of the key points:

  • When giving a lecture, often ‘a great study is one that supports the speaker’s view’
  • Physicians often have biases against patients with functional disorders as compared to those who have “rightful” suffering (eg. cancer, pancreatitis)
  • Key part of patient-physician relationship is listening (by the physician). Patients report better satisfaction and perceive to be understood better when a physician is sitting (while listening). “The most important technological advance in the practice of medicine was the invention of the chair. For you to sit in. While you take the history” (Mark Reid, MD)
  • Diagnoses have side effects
  • Families remember our words for years
  • We are not well-equipped to deliver good news: “This is one of the best colons I have ever seen…Your child has irritable bowel and no other tests are needed.”
  • The most under prescribed treatment: 30 minutes of physical activity everyday
  • 2nd most under prescribed treatment is a good night’s sleep.  Increased symptoms when tired
  • “Psychobezoar,” referring to a fear of discomfort with eating, could be used as an alternative to ARFID
  • Most effective treatment for IBS: cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Distraction is helpful tool for pain but need to teach parents to accept this tool
  • Some of the axioms in the lecture are attributed to Mark Reid, MD

Related blog post: #NASPGHAN19 Postgraduate Course -part 3

Here are some of the slides from this talk:

“Golden Half Hour in Chronic Pain”

A recent editorial (NL Schecter et al. JAMA Pediatr. 2021;175(1):7–8. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.1798. Full text: The Golden Half Hour in Chronic Pediatric Pain—Feedback as the First Intervention -thanks to Ben Gold for this reference) notes that with pain we need to take a more holistic approach: ” Commonly, patients with chronic pain are evaluated by multiple clinicians, including pediatricians and specialists, each of whom may have addressed only one of the child’s persistent symptoms (ie, headache, abdominal pain, dizziness, nausea, or fatigue). When each symptom is addressed in isolation, it seldom provides comprehensive relief. Moreover, this process can foster a family’s belief that each symptom represents a distinct illness.”

Key points:

  • Brief feedback discussion following an assessment for pediatric chronic pain may be akin to the “golden hour” in trauma or neonatal care.  During this critical time, there is an opportunity to connect with a family, clarify misconceptions, move toward a shared biopsychosocial understanding of pain, and engage families in a comprehensive plan for recovery.”
  • Tips for mastering the golden hour:
    • Elicit Parent and Child Expectations at the Outset “This facilitates a thorough understanding of a family’s main concerns, reduces anxiety, and improves satisfaction. For example, if a parent reports that they expect their child to undergo additional diagnostic testing, this needs to be appreciated and addressed during the feedback.”
    • Validate Symptoms  “Explicitly stating that you do not believe the child is “faking” or that the problem is merely due to psychological stress is critical”
    • Offer a Positive Diagnosis “Although you are special, your symptoms are not unique or mysterious…. If the focus is on what has been ruled out, there are always additional diagnoses that you, the patient, or the internet can introduce.”
    • Provide Education “it can be helpful to explain that chronic pain is like a fire alarm that keeps ringing although there is no fire. “
    • Emphasize a Multidisciplinary Intervention Plan plan for medical intervention, psychological support, and physical activity
    • Stay Connected “Plan follow-up visits (every 4-6 weeks)”
    • Offer an Optimistic Appraisal  “optimistic appraisals are most effective when a clinician has first validated a child’s pain, provided a positive diagnosis and education, and outlined an evidence-based, multidisciplinary approach to care”

My take: This article offers helpful advice. However, whether there is a “golden hour” of opportunity is not clear. Having better outcomes with early intervention could easily be related, at least in part, to selection bias.

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From Ashish Jha Twitter Feed 2/1/21:

“Implementing psychological therapies for gastrointestinal disorders in pediatrics”

Bonney Reed, Jessica Buzenski & Miranda A.L van TilburgExpert Review of Gastroenterology & Hepatology (2020), DOI: 10.1080/17474124.2020.1806055 Full Text: Implementing psychological therapies for gastrointestinal disorders in pediatrics

This article is a useful and up-to-date review on the role of psychology to treat children with gastrointestinal disorders, particularly targeting functional GI disorders as well as children with inflammatory bowel disease. Also, I want to recognize Bonney and Jessica who have been so helpful for so many of our patients.

Areas covered:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Gut-directed hypnotherapy
  • Biofeedback-assisted relaxation training
  • E-treatment/telemedicine
  • Emerging therapies: Mindfulness, and Acceptance and Commitment therapy


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Disclaimer: This blog, gutsandgrowth, assumes no responsibility for any use or operation of any method, product, instruction, concept or idea contained in the material herein or for any injury or damage to persons or property (whether products liability, negligence or otherwise) resulting from such use or operation. These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician.  Because of rapid advances in the medical sciences, the gutsandgrowth blog cautions that independent verification should be made of diagnosis and drug dosages. The reader is solely responsible for the conduct of any suggested test or procedure.  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.

Myth or Fact: Joint Hypermobility is Related to Pediatric Functional Abdominal Pain & Dr. Roy Link

According to a recent study (RJ Shulman et al. J Pediatri 2020; 222: 134-40), the prevalence of joint hypermobility does NOT differ in children with irritable bowel syndrome, functional abdominal pain, or healthy control children.

Methods (to reach this conclusion):

  • Children (median age ~9.5 years) with irritable bowel syndrome (n=109), functional abdominal pain (n=31), and healthy controls (n=69) completed a prospective 2-week pain and stooling diaries.  In addition, children and parents reported on measures of anxiety, depression, and somatization. Children were recruited from both primary care and tertiary care settings
  • Joint hypermobility was determined using Beighton criteria using a goniometer and examined cutoffs at both ≥4 or ≥6).

Key findings:

  • Beighton scores were similar between the groups, as was the proportion with joint hypermobility.  Beighton scores were not related to abdominal pain or stooling characteristics.
  • Beighton score ≥4: IBS 35%, FAP 36%, healthy controls 36%.
  • Beighton score ≥6: IBS 12%, FAP 13%, healthy controls 9%.
  • Children reported depression more frequently in those with Beighton scores ≥6 and somatization was greater in those with a score ≥4.


  • “It is well-recognized that patients with joint hypermobility syndromes (eg, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Marfan) commonly have GI symptoms.” However, joint hypermobility is common —in this study’s healthy control group 36% had a score ≥4 and 9% had a score ≥6.
  • This study is in agreement with a school-based study (n=136) (M Saps et al. JPGN 2018; 66: 387-90).
  • Limitations: This study population had a median age of ~9.5 years; thus, these findings need to be determined in an older children

My take: There does not appear to be an increased risk of functional GI disorders in children with joint hypermobility. Thus, looking for joint laxity/hypermobility in children with abdominal pain is not needed.

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Also, a link to Dr. Roy (Benaroch).  Roy is an Atlanta pediatrician and he explains, with the help of Batman and Luigi, the term ‘index’ case and when one is considered exposed: Dr. Roy Covid Pathway

AGA Recommendations for Management of Functional Symptoms in Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Full text: AGA Clinical Practice Update on Functional Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Patients With Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Expert Review (JF Columbel et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2019; 17: 380-90).

My take: Overall, this article presents a concise review of a tricky problem and appropiriate management.  The algorithm, tables and figures are useful.

Best practice advice 1: A stepwise approach to rule-out ongoing inflammatory activity should be followed in IBD patients with persistent GI symptoms (measurement of fecal calprotectin, endoscopy with biopsy, cross-sectional imaging).

In the report, the authors note that endoscopy and cross-sectional imaging are not needed in all patients; mainly in patients with a suspected flare based on presentation, calprotectin, and blood work.

Best practice advice 2: In those patients with indeterminate fecal calprotectin levels and mild symptoms, clinicians may consider serial calprotectin monitoring to facilitate anticipatory management.

Best practice advice 3: Anatomic abnormalities or structural complications should be considered in patients with obstructive symptoms including abdominal distention, pain, nausea and vomiting, obstipation or constipation.

Best practice advice 4: Alternative pathophysiologic mechanisms should be considered and evaluated (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, bile acid diarrhea, carbohydrate intolerance, chronic pancreatitis) based on predominant symptom patterns.

Best practice advice 5: A low FODMAP diet may be offered for management of functional GI symptoms in IBD with careful attention to nutritional adequacy.

Best practice advice 6: Psychological therapies (cognitive behavioural therapy, hypnotherapy, mindfulness therapy) should be considered in IBD patients with functional symptoms.

Best practice advice 7: Osmotic and stimulant laxative should be offered to IBD patients with chronic constipation.

Best practice advice 8: Hypomotility agents or bile-acid sequestrants may be used for chronic diarrhea in quiescent IBD.

Best practice advice 9: Antispasmodics, neuropathic-directed agents, and anti-depressants should be used for functional pain in IBD while use of opiates should be avoided.

Best practice advice 10: Probiotics may be considered for treatment of functional symptoms in IBD.

Best practice advice 11: Pelvic floor therapy should be offered to IBD patients with evidence of an underlying defecatory disorder.

Best practice advice 12: Until further evidence is available, fecal microbiota transplant should not be offered for treatment of functional GI symptoms in IBD.

Best practice advice 13: Physical exercise should be encourage in IBD patients with functional GI symptoms.

Best practice advice 14: Until further evidence is available, complementary and alternative therapies should not be routinely offered for functional symptoms in IBD.


Joint Mobility –Not Associated with Increased Functional GI Disorders

According to a recent study (M Saps et al. JPGN 2018; 66: 387-90), joint hypermobility is not associated with an increased risk of functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs).

From a school-based study of 654 children from a public school in Cali, Columbia, 148 (22.6%) were identified as having an FGID. Among this group, 136 children participated in the study along with 136 age/sex-matched healthy controls. Joint laxity was assessed to establish a Beighton score.

Key finding:

  • There was no significant difference in joint laxity between the FGID group and the control group, with OR of 1.03.

The implication of this study is that previous associations between joint hypermobility (JH) and FGIDs could be due to selection bias at tertiary care centers.  Alternatively, “it is possible that the association between FGIDs and JH exists, but it is only limited to a subset of patients that consult at specialized clinics.”

My take: This article challenges the idea that JH increases the risk of FGID.  Based on this study, if JH is a risk factor, it is hard to detect in a general population.

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Amber Cove, Dominican Republic

#NASPGHAN17 Why Rome IV Criteria are important

More information from this year’s annual NASPGHAN meeting.

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

The following slides highlight a terrific lecture by Carlo DiLorenzo (Nationwide Children’s Hospital).  Subsequently, I’ve included slides from Miranda van Tilburg (UNC); I was unable to attend her lecture and found some of the slides via twitter.

Key points:

  • Rome IV criteria are helpful, particularly with less common presentations like rumination
  • There has been an increase in nausea.  Morning nausea can be equated as a marker of anxiety until proven otherwise.
  • There is improved wording. “After appropriate medical evaluation, the symptoms cannot be attributed to another condition” may help facilitate the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome, for example, in patients with IBD who are in remission.

From Miranda Tilburg:

#NASPGHAN17 Annual Meeting Notes (Part 1): Neurostimulation for RAP, PSC-IBD, Organoids

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.

William Balistreri Prize: Katja Kovaic et al. Neurostimulation for functional abdominal pain disorders in children –a randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled trial. This study enrolled 104 patients.  Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol 2017; 2: 727-37.

Summary slide:

Fellow Research Award: Symptoms Underestimate Endoscopic Activity in PSC-IBD. Amanda Ricciuto et al. Hospital for Sick Children.

Key points:

  • In patients with IBD-PSC, clinical remission based on clinical symptoms is not reliable indicator of histologic remission.
  • Patients with PSC-IBD are more likely to have active endoscopic disease even when in “clinical remission”
  • Calprotectin levels (not PUCAIs) are helpful in confirming clinical remission.  A calprotectin <93 mcg/g was optimal level in determining clinical remission
  • Better control of disease could improve clinical outcomes (eg. colon cancer, liver progression)

Keynote Address: Organoids: Current and future promise for changing treatment of gastrointestinal and liver disorders.  James Wells Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

This was a terrific lecture.

  • Example of use of pluripotent stem cell usage: Diabetes. Phase 1 study has been started.
  • Organoids are in essence miniature versions of organs in a dish and with complex combination of cell types.
  • Organoids allow easier testing on these tissues for treatment and diagnosis of diseases
  • Organoids will allow for personalized testing of medications.  Some patients will respond differently.  This technology could be used to grow a specific organoid for a specific person and determine response on the organoid before giving to the patient.
  • Can engraft organoids into mice which can provide blood supply and allow larger organoids.
  • Clinical projects for organoids: Hirschsprung’s,  H pylori, Clostridium difficile, Short bowel syndrome, Fatty liver disease

Dreaded Nausea (2017)

This post provides followup to a previous post: Dreaded Nausea.

A recent study (AC Russell, AL Stone, LS Walker, Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2017; 15: 706-11) provides even more reasons to dread nausea.

This prospective study of 871 children with functional abdominal pain examined the comorbidity of nausea.  Followup data were collected from 392 patients at median of 8.7 years later.

Key findings:

  • At baseline, 44.8% of patients reported nausea. This group reported worse abdominal pain, somatic symptoms and depression than those without nausea.
  • At followup, “those with nausea in childhood continue to have more severe GI (P<.001) and somatic symptoms (P=.003)…as well as higher levels of anxiety (P=.02) and depression (P=.02).”  Anxiety and depression remained significant after controlling for baseline abdominal pain severity.
  • At the followup evaluation, the prevalence of any functional GI disorder (FGID) was 85 (48%) of those who had nausea at baseline compared with 77 (36%) for those without nausea at baseline.

In their discussion, the authors reiterate findings from previous work on this patient sample: “current and lifetime diagnoses of anxiety disorders are substantially higher in adolescents with a history of FAP [functional abdominal pain] compared with healthy controls (lifetime, 51% vs. 20%; current 30% vs 12%). The lifetime risk of depressive disorder is also significantly higher in those with FAP (40% vs. 16%).”  They also note some limitations in their work, including the absence of formal screening for postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS).

My take (borrowed from authors): This study “suggests that nausea is more than just a comorbid symptom of FAP and may have a different underlying etiology” and increases likelihood of persistent symptoms as well as anxiety and depression.

Briefly noted: RJ Shulman et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2017; 15: 712-9. This randomized, double-blind study showed that added psyllium reduced frequency (but not severity) of abdominal pain in children (n=103) with irritable bowel syndrome. Psyllium was dosed at 6 g/day for 7-11 year olds, and 12 g for 12-18 year olds. Interestingly, this study did not show that psyllium caused a difference in normal stools or other mechanistic reasons for improvement, like breath hydrogen, breath methane, intestinal permeability or microbiome composition.

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