From the AGA Journals

AGA Clinical Practice Update: Functional gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with inflammatory bowel disease



When patients with inflammatory bowel disease report persistent gastrointestinal symptoms, clinicians should perform a thorough clinical assessment and then take a stepwise approach to rule out ongoing inflammation, according to a clinical practice update from the American Gastroenterological Association.

Dr. Jean-Frederic Colombel

A fecal calprotectin test can be useful because values under 50 mcg/mL may suggest endoscopic remission, which may, in turn, point to another etiology of gastrointestinal symptoms, wrote Jean-Frederic Colombel, MD, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, together with his associates in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

However, a result between 50 and 250 mcg/mL is harder to interpret because the upper limit of normal varies and mild increases can occur secondary to nonspecific low-grade inflammation, according to the experts. For mild gastrointestinal symptoms, they suggested testing fecal calprotectin every 3-6 months to identify flares as early as possible. If a flare is suspected, they advised considering cross-sectional imaging or endoscopy with biopsy.

Imaging also is indicated for patients with obstructive symptoms such as abdominal pain, obstipation, or constipation, the practice update states. Such symptoms can indicate fecal stasis proximal to distal colitis in patients with ulcerative colitis, or intestinal stenosis in patients with Crohn’s disease.

Other pathophysiologies of gastrointestinal symptoms also should be considered based on constellations of symptoms. For example, steatorrhea with chronic abdominal pain may indicate pancreatic exocrine insufficiency, which fecal elastase testing can help confirm. Symptoms of diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome can result from bile acid diarrhea, for which several screening tests are available. Diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating may indicate carbohydrate malabsorption or small-intestinal bacterial overgrowth, which can be evaluated with breath testing.

If patients with inflammatory bowel disease have persistent gastrointestinal symptoms but lack objective evidence of ongoing inflammation or another etiology, then clinicians should increase their suspicion of an overlapping functional gastrointestinal disorder. These conditions actually “share many common pathophysiologic disturbances that, in some inflammatory bowel disease patients, may be a consequence of prior structural and functional bowel damage,” the experts wrote.

For patients with chronic constipation who do not have an underlying obstruction, they suggest osmotic or stimulant laxatives. For chronic diarrhea, they recommend hypomobility agents or bile-acid sequestrants. Patients with fecal symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome also should be evaluated for pelvic floor disorders, which may improve with biofeedback therapy, the experts state.

A low-FODMAP diet (a diet low in lactose, fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) also can improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, including patients with inflammatory bowel disease. However, a dietitian always should deliver this restrictive diet because patients with inflammatory bowel disease already are at increased risk for undernutrition.

Patients with functional gastrointestinal pain may benefit from antispasmodics, neuropathic-directed agents, and antidepressants, but they should not receive opiates, the experts emphasized. Anxiety and depression are common in both inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome, and patients may benefit from psychotherapy (cognitive-behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy, and mindfulness therapy), antidepressants, anxiolytics, or combinations of these treatments. The practice update also recommends physical exercise, which has been shown to decrease the risk of recurrent active disease in the setting of inflammatory bowel disease.

Finally, persistent gut symptoms can indicate intestinal barrier dysfunction, even if endoscopy shows mucosal healing. Barrier dysfunction is a potential therapeutic target that needs further study in this setting, the experts noted. They also called for studies of the potential benefits and risks of probiotics and other alternative approaches, such as herbal treatments and supplements, yoga, acupuncture, and moxibustion. Until further evidence, however, they have recommended against complementary or alternative medicine or fecal microbiota transplantation.

Dr. Colombel has served as consultant, advisory board member, or speaker for AbbVie, Amgen, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Celgene Corporation, and many other pharmaceutical companies. He has received research grants from AbbVie, Takeda, and Janssen and Janssen.

SOURCE: Colombel J-F et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018 Aug 9. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2018.08.001.

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