Patients with disorders of gut-brain interaction (DGBI) report meal intake to be associated with symptoms. DGBI patients with meal-related symptoms may have more severe symptoms overall and worse health outcomes, but this subgroup has not been well characterized. We aimed to describe the global prevalence of meal-related abdominal pain and characterize this subgroup.
The data analyzed originated from the Internet survey component of the population-based Rome Foundation Global Epidemiology Study, completed in 26 countries (
n= 54,127). Adult subjects were asked whether they had abdominal pain and how often this was meal-related. Respondents were categorized into “no,” “occasional,” and “frequent” meal-related abdominal pain groups based on 0%, 10–40%, and ≥50% of the pain episodes being meal-related, respectively. DGBI diagnoses, frequency of other GI symptoms, psychological distress, non-GI somatic symptoms, quality of life, and healthcare utilization were compared between groups. Mixed linear and ordinal regression was used to assess independent associations between psychological distress, non-GI somatic symptoms, quality of life, other GI symptoms, and meal-related abdominal pain. Results
Overall, 51.9% of the respondents reported abdominal pain in the last 3 months, and 11.0% belonged to the group with frequent meal-related abdominal pain, which included more females and younger subjects. DGBI diagnoses were more common in subjects with frequent meal-related abdominal pain, and the frequency of several GI symptoms was associated with having more frequent meal-related abdominal pain. Having meal-related abdominal pain more frequently was also associated with more severe psychological distress, non-GI somatic symptoms, and a poorer quality of life. The group with frequent meal-related abdominal pain also more often consulted a doctor for bowel problems compared to the other groups of meal-related abdominal pain.
Reporting frequent meal-related abdominal pain is common across the globe and associated with other GI and non-GI somatic symptoms, psychological distress, healthcare utilization, and a poorer quality of life. Individuals who frequently experience meal-related abdominal pain also more frequently fulfill the diagnostic criteria for DGBI. Assessing meal-related symptoms in all DGBI patients could be of major importance to improve and individualize symptom management.