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.

Related blog posts:

Old Well, UNC Chapel Hill, Fall

Celiac Disease and Psychological Problems

A recent study (A Butwicka et al. J Pediatr 2017; 184: 87-93) describes an increased rate of childhood psychiatric disorders among children with celiac disease (CD).

The authors used a nationwide registry (in Sweden) with 10,903 children with celiac disease, 12,710 siblings, and more than 1 million control patients. The median age at diagnosis was 3 years and median duration of followup was 9.6 years.

Key findings:

  • CD patients had a 1.4 fold greater risk of psychiatric disorders, including mood disorders, eating disorders, behavioral disorders, and ADHD.
  • CD siblings did not have an increased risk.
  • 7.7% of children with CD were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder

Limitation: The actual reported incidence of psychiatric disorders seems low in both the CD patients and controls.  It is possible that some of the difference could be related to selection bias. Patients with (undiagnosed) psychiatric disorders may be more likely to be anxious, and seek out medical attention for their GI complaints;  this could precede a diagnosis of CD.

Strengths: This study has large numbers of patients and the data was prospectively obtained.

The association with increased psychiatric problems could have a biologic basis or be related to the toll of chronic gastrointestinal symptoms prior to diagnosis and the difficulty of managing CD.

My take: This is an intriguing study and suggests that patients with CD are more likely to be diagnosed with a psychological disorder.  Whether CD itself or the preceding symptoms trigger this diagnosis is uncertain.

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Paris from Notre Dame

Eosinophilic Esophagitis and Psychosocial Dysfunction

There are many medical challenges in treating patients with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) and this has been discussed extensively in this blog (some links below).  What is striking in managing these patients and families is how often there are significant psychosocial problems.  Does this disorder serve as an excuse for other issues? Does the altered diet create enormous stress and isolation? Is the diagnosis of EoE an epiphenomenon for many of these patients?

While these questions are not answered, a recent retrospective study from a tertiary care center does provide some data on the frequency of psychosocial dysfunction in children and adolescents with EoE (JPGN 2013; 57: 500-05).

Psychosocial evaluation was offered as part of these patients’ clinical evaluation; this took place in 64 of 152 patients during the study timeframe.  Subsequently, a retrospective review of these patients, who had been offered a 1-hour behavioral health assessment by either a psychologist or social worker, were analyzed.

Key findings:

  • 69% had some psychosocial impairment
  • 64% had social difficulties
  • 41% had anxiety
  • 33% had sleep difficulties
  • 28% had depression
  • 26% had school problems
  • 44% had adjustment problems; this was more common in older children and in children with gastrostomy tubes

The main limitations of this study are its retrospective nature and the fact that only a minority of patients were analyzed; the latter indicates a high likelihood of a selection bias. The severity of EoE was not correlated with these problems, but could have been higher  at a tertiary center.

Take-home message: As with other chronic diseases, EoE patients have frequent psychosocial health problems –this study starts to define the extent of the problem.