1 in 9 people battle stomach pain after eating, likely from disorders of gut-brain interactions

One in nine people suffer from stomach ache after eating, research shows. Pain associated with eating is most commonly experienced in young people between ages 18 to 28. Scientists say those who experience it are more likely to suffer from bloating, a swollen belly, feeling too full after eating or suffering from constipation or diarrhea. The symptoms may be a result of what’s referred to as “disorders of the gut-brain interactions.”

According to the survey of more than 50,000 people, around 11 percent of the global population frequently experiences abdominal pain when eating meals. Based on the Rome Foundation Global Epidemiology study, the data reveals that 36 percent of people who suffered from stomach aches became anxious and distressed, compared to 18 percent of those who had never experienced meal-related pain.

Those who suffered from frequent attacks of pain also reported higher rates of depression.

The findings were from an online study of 54,127 people across 26 countries. Participants were asked if they’d ever suffered from abdominal pain while eating. Those who answered “yes” were separated into groups, depending on if their pain was meal-related more than half of the time, occasionally, and rarely, or never.

“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,” says study author Esther Colomier, a joint PhD researcher at KU Leuven in Belgium and the University of Gothenburg, in a statement. “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.”

Which stomach pain symptoms occur most frequently?

The study shows that symptoms such as constipation and diarrhea cropped up in 30 percent of those who reported frequent meal-related pain. That’s 10 percent higher than those who experienced occasional discomfort after eating.

The presence of bloating and IBS symptoms were reported as often as once a week in the group that experienced frequent pain when eating compared to once a month in the group experiencing no symptoms.

“Considering meal-related symptoms in future diagnostic criteria for DGBIs should be encouraged,” adds Colomier. “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, who led the 2021 Global Epidemiology Study of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders study, says the findings were of great interest. “Many patients with disorders of gut-brain interactions such as irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia, ascribe their symptoms to food and eating,” she says. “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.”

The study is the first to use the Rome Foundation’s large database to gain insight into meal-related abdominal pain and its significance. The findings were presented at the United European Gastroenterology (UEG) virtual conference.

Article by Georgia Lambert from South West News Service


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