Diagnostic outcomes following childhood non-specific abdominal pain: a record-linkage study

Thornton GC1, Goldacre MJ2, Goldacre R2, Howarth LJ1. Arch Dis Child. 2015 Jul 28. pii: archdischild-2015-308198. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2015-308198. [Epub ahead of print]
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1Department of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Oxford University Hospitals Trust, Oxford, UK. 2Unit of Health-Care Epidemiology, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.


AIMS: Non-specific abdominal pain (NSAP) is the most common diagnosis on discharge following admission for abdominal pain in childhood. Our aim was to determine the risk of subsequent hospital diagnosis of organic and functional gastroenterological conditions following a diagnosis of NSAP, and to assess the persistence of this risk.

METHODS: An NSAP cohort of 268 623 children aged 0-16 years was constructed from linked English Hospital Episode Statistics from 1999 to 2011. The control cohort (1 684 923 children, 0-16 years old) comprised children hospitalised with unrelated conditions. Clinically relevant outcomes were selected and standardised rate ratios were calculated.

RESULTS: From the NSAP cohort, 15 515 (5.8%) were later hospitalised with bowel pathology and 13 301 (5%) with a specific functional disorder. Notably, there was a 4.84 (95% CI 4.45 to 5.27) times greater risk of Crohn's disease following NSAP and a 4.23 (4.13 to 4.33) greater risk of acute appendicitis than in the control cohort. The risk of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) was 7.22 (6.65 to 7.85) times greater following NSAP. The risks of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), IBS and functional disorder (unspecified) were significantly increased in all age groups except <2-year-olds. The risk of underlying bowel pathology remained raised up to 10 years after first diagnosis with NSAP.

CONCLUSIONS: Only a small proportion of those with NSAP go on to be hospitalised with underlying bowel pathology. However, their risk is increased even at 10 years after the first hospital admission with NSAP. Diagnostic strategies need to be assessed and refined and active surveillance employed for children with NSAP.

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