Primary Care Corner with Geoffrey Modest MD: Dyspepsia guidelines

by Dr Geoffrey Modest

​​The American College Of Gastroenterology and the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology updated their guidelines on the management of dyspepsia (see doi: 10.1038/ajg.2017.154​)


Recommendations (note: the recommendation is much weaker when they use the word “suggest” vs “recommend”):

— they suggest endoscopy for dyspepsia patients greater than 60 years old: conditional recommendation/very low-quality evidence. they raised the age from 55 of prior guidelines since the age-specific incidence of gastric cancer has fallen in the US, and they feel the cost of endoscopy per case of cancer detected is prohibitive. they also do suggest this guideline be individualized, so that for patients coming from areas with high upper GI malignancy rates there should be a lower threshold for endoscopy, especially those coming from Southeast Asia and some countries in South America.

— they suggest not to do endoscopy to investigate alarm features (e.g. weight loss, anemia, dysphagia, persistent vomiting) for dyspepsia patients under the age of 60 . This recommendation is based on seven studies finding that alarm features had limited value for detecting any organic pathology: conditional recommendation/moderate quality evidence

— they recommend that dyspepsia patients under the age 60 should have a noninvasive test for H. pylori, with therapy if positive: Strong recommendation/high quality evidence

— they recommend that dyspepsia patients under the age of 60 should have empiric PPI therapy if they are H. pylori negative or remain symptomatic after H. pylori eradication therapy: Strong recommendation/high quality evidence

— they suggest dyspepsia patients under the age of 60 not responding to PPI or H. pylori eradication therapy should be offered prokinetic therapy: Conditional recommendation/very low- quality of evidence.  Metoclopromide should be given for less than 12 weeks [a problem given the chronicity of dyspepsia, but this drug does have significant adverse effects such as tardive dyskinesia], and domperidone dose should be 30 mg a day or less (this medication is not available in the US).

— the recommendations for patients with functional dyspepsia mirror the above, except that those patients who fail PPI or H. pylori eradication therapy should be offered tricyclic antidepressant therapy (Conditional recommendation, moderate quality evidence), and that those not responding to any of these be offered prokinetic therapy (conditional recommendation, very low-quality evidence). Those with functional dyspepsia not responding to any drug therapy should be offered psychological therapy (conditional recommendation, very low-quality of evidence.) They do not recommend the use of complementary or alternative medicines or the routine use of motility studies, except when gastroparesis is strongly suspected (several studies have found that the relationship between dyspeptic symptoms and gastric emptying is poor). The basis of their recommendation for tricyclics is that there were 3 studies looking at patients with functional dyspepsia finding a significant effect in reducing dyspepsia symptoms. No effect has been seen with SSRIs.



— as we all know, dyspepsia is quite prevalent, approximately 20% of the population globally. More common in women, smokers, and those on NSAIDs. The cost to the US healthcare services is over for $18 billion a year, societal costs are likely double that from time away from work.

— The definitions they are using:

— dyspepsia: predominant epigastric pain lasting at least one month, can be associated with epigastric fullness, nausea, vomiting, or heartburn, provided that epigastric pain is the patient’s primary concern (they are trying to minimize the inclusion of GERD in this category)

— functional dyspepsia: patients with dyspepsia where endoscopy and other relevant tests have ruled out organic pathology that explains the symptoms


So, a few comments:

— there are a few items above which counter conventional approaches, including not doing endoscopy to investigate alarm features in those <60 years old (they do comment that studies do not suggest that the predictive value of alarm features is very good, though the quality of evidence to support this is very low)

— I personally think the flow of the above algorithm is somewhat flawed. Those either with functional dyspepsia or plain old dyspepsia who have significant life stressors or other psychosocial conditions should be appropriately treated for those, usually at the same time acid suppression therapy is used, instead of the old biomedical approach, reiterated above, that one tries to treat all medical problems first and if all else fails treat the psychological problems. There have been studies in the past which have shown, not surprisingly to those of us in clinical practice, that stress can produce dyspepsia, with other old studies also showing an increase in gastric acid production.

— The above recommendations apply to symptomatic patients and strongly recommend treating H Pylori infections. As mentioned in many prior blogs, I tend to be quite aggressive in diagnosing and treating H. pylori infections, even if asymptomatic, because of the association with gastric cancer. This is reinforced to me because I treat a population with a very high prevalence of H. pylori, and what seems to me a high incidence of gastric cancer (which in fact is prevalent in the countries from which they hail). See blog reference below.

— another issue is the potential problems with the long-term use of PPI therapy. As commented previously, many patients have been put on PPIs for inappropriate indications (and they are available OTC, to boot). Many dyspepsia patients do respond to H2 blockers or even calcium antacids, which do not put them at higher risk of the many possible complications of long-term PPIs (a blog will come out soon on the association of PPIs with increased overall mortality). In fact, in seven RCTs involving 2456 dyspepsia patients, there was no statistically significant difference between PPI and H2 blocker use in providing symptom relief. And, patients initially treated with PPIs very often can be stepped down to H2 blockers or antacids, though many of these patients do well with stepped down therapy​.



blog for a summary of risks and benefits of PPIs

blog  for a summary of the H Pylori treatment regimens

blog  for a review of H pylori eradication and decreases in gastric cancer

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