A new Clinical Practice Update from the AGA on belching, abdominal bloating, and distention offers practical management strategies for a class of disorders that, while highly prevalent, can be confusing to clinicians because of their nonspecific and overlapping symptomatology and wide range of possible causes.
The, published online in Gastroenterology, is dedicated to these specific disorders, which, when not caused by bacteria, food intolerance, or autoimmune disease, are increasingly viewed as stemming from dysregulation of the brain-gut axis, and therefore responsive to interventions such as biofeedback therapy and central nervous system modulators, including antidepressants referred to as neuromodulators due to their pain modulating effects in the gut.
Baharak Moshiree, MD, of Atrium Health, Wake Forest Medical University, Charlotte, N.C., the lead author, said the guidance is aimed at GI specialists as much as primary care physicians and other providers who treat patients with these disorders.
Clinicians may not always know which diagnostic studies to order for a patient with bloating, distention, or belching, Dr. Moshiree said, and since large randomized controlled trials in these patient groups are not available, making evidence-based treatment recommendations is challenging. Because the disorders are ubiquitous, “there’s a lot of social media attention around them, and these include fad diets and drugs labeled as medical foods, like probiotics, that patients will often try.”
The guidance includes 15 best practice advice statements along with two diagnostic and treatment algorithms, one for belching and the other for bloating and distention.
For belching, the authors stress discerning between gastric and supragastric belching using clinical history and examination, and if needed, impedance Ph monitoring. For supragastric belching, or esophageal belching, treatment considerations may include cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback training, and neuromodulator (antidepressant) drugs either alone or combined with psychological therapies.
Abdominal bloating and distention should be diagnosed using the Rome IV criteria, and in patients with suspected carbohydrate enzyme deficiencies, dietary restriction of potentially problematic carbohydrates or breath testing may be used to rule out intolerance. In a subset of at-risk patients, “small bowel aspiration and glucose- or lactulose-based hydrogen breath testing may be used to evaluate for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth,” the guidance says. Blood testing may be used to rule out celiac disease, and, if positive, a definitive diagnosis should be confirmed with small bowel tissue biopsy obtained during an upper endoscopy, Dr. Moshiree and her colleagues wrote.
Endoscopy and imaging should be restricted to patients with alarm features such as vomiting or weight loss, rapid worsening of symptoms, or an abnormal physical exam. Tests such as gastric emptying transit studies should not be routinely ordered unless nausea and vomiting are present. Similarly, whole-gut motility studies should be ordered only if there are symptoms suggestive of motility disorders, with testing carried out at specialized centers.
When constipation occurs with bloating, clinicians should use anorectal physiology testing to rule out a pelvic-floor disorder, which, if present, can be treated with pelvic floor biofeedback training. Constipation in the context of bloating may also be treated with laxatives. Probiotics are not advised as treatment for bloating and distention in this guidance, given a lack of robust studies. However, neuromodulators may help reduce visceral or gut hypersensitivity and improve psychological comorbidities if these are present, the authors wrote.
Conditions treated with dietary modifications should be overseen by dietitians, and diaphragmatic breathing and neuromodulators can be used to treat a condition called abdominophrenic dyssynergia, the guidance says.
“We tried to make it clinically useful,” Dr. Moshiree said of the practice update, which was not the result of systematic reviews or meta-analyses of multicenter randomized controlled trials. The update contains no ratings on its recommendations and does not grade the evidence used. Rather, the three coauthors looked to results from published randomized trials and observational studies, along with their own expert opinion.
For example, the guidance’s best practice advice on abdominophrenic dyssynergia came from single center studies in Italy where bloating improved with use of biofeedback therapy for this condition. Although this was a single center study, experts have found that biofeedback therapy is helpful for relaxing the pelvic floor muscles which can help bloating and distension symptoms.
Dr. Moshiree also pointed to a 2021 narrative review by Brian E. Lacy, MD. and David Cangemi, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., that helped inform the framework for this clinical practice update.
Dr. Moshiree disclosed financial relationships with several pharmaceutical companies including Salix, AbbVie, Medtronic, and Takeda. Her two coauthors, Douglas Drossman, MD, of the Rome Foundation and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Aasma Shaukat, MD, of New York University, also disclosed industry support.