From the Journals

Study explores reasons for link between gastroparesis symptoms, constipation



Severe constipation affected 34% of adults with gastroparesis symptoms and showed a significant positive correlation with symptom severity in a multicenter prospective study.

Henry P. Parkman, MD, of Temple University in Philadelphia and his associates used a modified GI symptoms questionnaire, gastric-emptying scintigraphy, and wireless motility capsule studies of 338 participants in the National Institutes of Health Gastroparesis Registry, which enrolls individuals with gastroparesis symptoms (whether or not they have delayed gastric emptying). In the multivariable analysis, severe constipation (a score of 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale) correlated significantly with a higher score on the Gastroparesis Cardinal Symptoms Index (GCSI), with an odds ratio of 1.85 (95% confidence interval, 1.30-2.67). In addition, patients with gastroparesis symptoms were significantly more likely to report pain in the lower abdomen (OR, 1.34; 95% CI, 1.06-1.69) and to use medications to manage constipation (OR, 5.09; 95% CI, 2.75-9.41). The findings were published online in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Constipation was not significantly linked with the use of individual drug classes, including opiates, tricyclic antidepressants, 5HT3 receptor antagonists, or cannabinoids. However, many patients were taking combinations of medications, and it is unclear if these induced constipation or if patients had primary disorders, such as abnormal colonic motility or anorectal dysfunction, said Adil E. Bharucha, MBBS, MD, a professor of medicine in the gastroenterology and hepatology division and a medical director in the office of clinical trials at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., who was not involved in the study. For patients with gastroparesis and constipation, clinicians should consider withdrawing constipating medications, performing anorectal testing, and referring patients for pelvic floor biofeedback therapy if anorectal tests are positive, he said while acknowledging the need for more data on these approaches. For patients without evidence of anorectal disorders, he recommended “simple laxatives or, if necessary, prescription medications, some of which may also benefit upper gastrointestinal symptoms.”

In this study, constipation also did not correlate with gastric emptying, which suggests that “motility disturbances in the foregut are separable from those in the hindgut,” said David Levinthal, MD, PhD, director of the neurogastroenterology and motility center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who also was not involved in the work. Constipation was only marginally linked with colonic transit time (OR, 1.04; 95% CI, 1.00-1.07), and delayed gastric emptying did not predict the severity of dyspepsia, he noted. “These observations highlight that sensory mechanisms are very important factors that are not interrogated by physiological motility tests, but that nonetheless may have an outsized impact on how patients feel.”

Despite “fairly good phenotyping of patients [based on] physiological measures, medication use, and detailed symptom questionnaires,” the study’s method of grouping patients based on continuous variables could mask relevant clinical nuances, Dr. Levinthal said. He emphasized that individual physiological tests do not reliably predict the presence or severity of GI symptoms: “What would you make of a 50-hour colonic transit time [CTT]? Or a 60-hour CTT? One could have either no constipation or severe constipation with those values. In clinical practice, it is less certain how useful it is to know a specific CTT result [when] formulating a treatment plan.”

Therefore, future studies of patients with gastroparesis and constipation should forgo grouping patients based on GI motor patterns and instead validate patient-reported symptom measures by using novel sensory tests with stimuli such as eating, drinking, and balloon distension, Dr. Levinthal said. He also recommended studying cognitive and emotional functioning in this patients, given that conditions such as depression and anxiety are known to affect GI sensation.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases provided funding. The investigators reported having no conflicts of interest. Dr. Bharucha reported having filed patents for anorectal devices jointly with Minnesota Medical Technologies, Medspira, and Medtronic and receiving royalties from Medspira. Dr. Levinthal reported having served on advisory boards for Takeda Pharmaceuticals and Alexza Pharmaceuticals.

SOURCE: Parkman HP et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2020 Oct 28. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2020.10.045.

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