1 in 10 people experience meal-related abdominal pain: Study

Wednesday 13th October 2021 07:28 EDT

A study reveals around 11 per cent of the global population frequently experience abdominal pain when they eat meals. The research was presented at UEG Week Virtual 2021. It found that pain associated with eating appears to be most common in young people aged 18 to 28, with 15 per cent affected. Those who experienced frequent abdominal meal-related pain were also more likely to suffer from bloating, a swollen tummy, feeling too full after eating or feeling full up too quickly, constipation and diarrhoea. The same group also had more severe psychological distress and somatic symptoms.

Around 36 per cent of the people with frequent meal-related pain reported suffering from anxiety compared with 25 per cent in the occasional symptoms group and 18 per cent in those who never experienced meal-related pain.

Based on the Rome Foundation Global Epidemiology study2, the findings were a result of surveying 54,127 people across 26 countries online. Respondents were asked if they suffered abdominal pain and whether this was related to eating. They were categorised into three groups: those who said their abdominal pain was meal-related more than 50 per cent of the time, those who had occasional meal-related pain between 10-40 per cent of the time, and those who rarely or never had meal-related pain.

Those with frequent attacks also reported higher rates of depression (35 per cent) compared to 24 per cent in the occasional symptom group and 17 per cent in the group that never had meal-related pain.

Esther Colomier, study author and a joint PhD researcher at KU Leuven, Belgium, and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, explained, “The take-home message from this study is that people who experience meal-related abdominal pain more frequently experience other gastrointestinal symptoms and more regularly fulfil criteria for disorders of the gut-brain interactions (DGBIs, formerly known as functional gut disorders), including common conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bloating and abdominal distension.”

"They also have a higher burden of psychological and somatic symptoms, such as back pain or shortness of breath, which are associated with major distress and functioning problems. These symptoms cause distress and disruption in daily life", she added.

Lower gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation and diarrhoea were experienced in 30 per cent of those who reported frequent meal-related pain, versus 20 per cent in the group who reported occasional symptoms and 10 per cent in the no symptoms at all group.
The same applied for bloating and abdominal distension symptoms, which were reported as often as once a week in the group who experienced frequent meal pain, compared to two or three days a month in the group with occasional pain and one day a month in the group who experienced no symptoms.

Esther Colomier concluded, “Considering meal-related symptoms in future diagnostic criteria for DGBIs should be encouraged. In clinical practice, assessing meal association in all patients with DGBIs could be of major importance for improving and individualizing treatment. Here, patients could benefit from a multidisciplinary care approach, including dietary and lifestyle advice, psychological support and pharmacological therapy.”

Professor Ami Sperber, the lead author of the 2021 Global Epidemiology Study of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (FGIDs) which found 40 per cent of people worldwide have FGIDs or disorders of the gut/ brain axis, said the findings of Colomier's study were of great interest.

“Many patients with disorders of gut-brain interactions (DGBI) such as irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia ascribe their symptoms to food and eating," Sperber explained. "A major complaint is the development of pain following meals. However, there is no substantive data on this phenomenon, despite its potential significance for patient care and the study of the pathophysiology of these disorders,” Sperber added.

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