Afraid to Eat -Could be “Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder”

A recent case report (JJ Thomas et al. NEJM 2017; 376: 2377-86) provides insight into something I’ve seen a lot but did not have a good label for previously: Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).

This report highlights an 11 year old who after a having a piece of meat briefly lodged into an orthodontic palate expander, stopped eating solid foods because she was “afraid I can’t chew it up enough to swallow it so I don’t choke.”  Even before this event, she had been a highly selective eater since infancy.  “Similar to many patients with ARFID, this patient had a long-term failure to gain weight appropriately and now had more acute weight loss.”  She did desired to gain weight and did not have any body distortion typical for anorexia nervosa.

This report provides a good list of etiologies which could trigger acute food refusal as well as conditions that could cause chronic poor weight gain.

  • For acute food refusal, etiologies included acute oromotor dysfunction, foreign body ingestion, gastrointestinal ulceration, anorexia nervosa/other psychiatric reasons (including globus hystericus).
  • For chronic failure to gain weight: chronic oromotor dysfunction (numerous neurologic causes), achalasia, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, endocrine etiologies (eg. Addison’s, hyperthyroidism, type 1 diabetes mellitus), infections (eg. tuberculosis, HIV), insufficient food/abuse & neglect, stimulant use, cancers, and other chronic diseases (pulmonary, cardiac, or renal)

Definition of ARFID:

  • “The presence of avoidant or restrictive eating that results in persistent failure to meet nutritional needs; evidence of ARFID includes low weight or failure to have expected gains or growth, nutritional deficiencies, reliance on nutritional supplements or enteral feeding, psychosocial impairment, or a combination of these features. Restrictive eating may be motivated by low appetite or lack of interest in eating, sensitivities to certain sensory aspects of foods, or fear of adverse consequences of eating, such as choking or vomiting.”
  • It is noted that coexisting psychiatric conditions “appear to be common among patients with ARFID. Concurrent anxiety disorders are the most prevalent; they occur in more than 70% of patients in some clinical samples.”

Treatment of ARFID:

There is little data to guide treatment.  Treatment of coexisting psychiatric conditions is recommended and behavioral interventions to improve eating.  In this patient with a choking phobia, the treatment included a gradual stepwise progression in food textures:

  • Liquids–>Purees (eg yogurt, applesauce)–>Textured purees (eg. oatmeal, mashed potatoes) –>Soft solids (eg. rice, mac & cheese, pasta, bread, potatoes, pizza) –>Crunchy solids (eg. chips, pretzels, crackers) –>Hard-to-chew solids (eg. meats)

My take: I think being able to use this relatively new term of Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder will improve disease classification and ultimately help promote better treatments.

I thought this candy store icon was funny due to the missing tooth

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (part 2)

A terrific 12 page review of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): AC Ford, BE Lacy, NJ Talley. NEJM 2017; 376: 2566-78. While yesterday’s post reviewed some of the updated diagnostic and pathophysiology information, today’s will focus on treatment.

The article’s Table 2 outlines the most frequent treatments, their efficacy, side effects, costs, and quality of evidence. I’ve tried to highlight the key points from table and discussion:

  1. Soluble fiber (eg. psyllium). Efficacy: effective -start at low doses. Quality of evidence: Moderate, Cost: $15-30 per month.
  2. Low-FODMAP diet. Efficacy: “May be effective, nutritionist guidance helpful.” While there have been studies showing this diet can be effective, two studies have shown that this diet is not significantly superior to conventional IBS diets (eg. “eating small, regular meals and avoiding insoluble fiber, fatty foods, and caffeine”).Quality of evidence: Very low.
  3. Gluten-free diet.  Efficacy: May be effective.  “No additive effect over that of a low-FODMAP diet in another small RCT.” Quality of evidence: Very low.
  4. Antispasmodic drugs (eg. dicyclomine).Efficacy: May be effective. Quality of evidence: Low, “No high-quality trials.” Cost: $50 per month.
  5. Peppermint oil. Efficacy: Effective, though few RCTs and no FDA-approved end points. Quality of evidence: Moderate. “No high-quality trials.”  Cost: $9-19 per month
  6. Lubiprostone. Efficacy: Effective, though “only a modest benefit over placebo, particularly for abdominal pain.” Quality of evidence: Moderate. Cost: ~$350 per month.
  7. Linaclotide.  Efficacy: Effective.. ” Quality of evidence: High. “No high-quality trials.”  Cost: ~$350 per month.
  8. Alosetron/5-HT3 receptor antagonists.  Efficacy: Effective. ” Quality of evidence: High. “No high-quality trials.”  Cost: ~$350-1100 per month. Alosetron may trigger ischemic colitis.
  9. Eluxadoline.  Efficacy: Effective, though “only a modest benefit over placebo for global symptoms and no benefit over placebo for abdominal pain.”  Quality of evidence: High. “No high-quality trials.”  Cost: ~$1100 per month. May trigger pancreatitis.
  10. Rifaximin. Efficacy: Effective. Quality of evidence: Moderate. “Modest benefit over placebo.”  “Relapse among patients who have a response is usual.” Cost: ~$1500 per month.
  11. Probiotics. Efficacy: May be effective.  Quality of evidence: Low. “Few high-quality trials and no FDA-approved end points.”  Cost: ~$20 per month.
  12. Tricyclic antidepressants. Efficacy: Effective. Quality of evidence: Moderate.  “Few high-quality trials and no FDA-approved end points.”   “A meta-analysis showed that tricyclic antidepressants were more effective than placebo in 11 randomized trials involving a total of 744 patients.” Cost: ~$5-10 per month.
  13. Psychological treatments. Efficacy: Effective. Quality of evidence: Low.  “Few high-quality trials and no FDA-approved end points.” “Their efficacy may be overestimated because of the lack of blinding.” There is also difficulty for many patients in finding an appropriate provider.  Cost: ??
  14. Placebo. In treatment trials, a placebo response is noted in 30-40%.
  15. Complementary/Alternative Therapies.  “Herbal therapies remain unclear.  STW5 (Iberogast) has been tested and “showed superiority over placebo.” Melatonin “has been reported to reduce abdominal pain in patients with IBS.”

The authors recommend judicious testing  “Any reassurance derived from colonoscopy to rule out organic disease in patients with IBS is short-lived.”

The authors outline their typical approach.  “Reassurance, explanation, and a positive diagnosis are essential steps in management. We recommend starting with dietary modification (slowly increasing soluble fiber if the patient has IBS with constipation or instituting a low-FODMAP diet temporarily  if the patient has IBS with diarrhea or the mixed subtype of IBS). We also recommend increased exercise and stress reduction.  A probiotic may be added, especially if bloating is prominent.  Pain may be ameliorated with an antispasmodic agent or a tricyclic antidepressant, diarrhea with loperamide or a bile acid sequestrant (eg. colestipol) and constipation with polyethylene glycol.” The other therapies may be used in those with persistent IBS symptoms.

My take: When a disease has this many treatments, usually this means that none of the treatments are all that great.

Related blog posts:

Chattahoochee River

Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician.  This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome 2017 (part 1)

A terrific 12 page review of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): AC Ford, BE Lacy, NJ Talley. NEJM 2017; 376: 2566-78.

Diagnosis of Irritable Bowel:

Testing: National guidelines recommend that for a patient who meets Rome IV criteria, “the physician should make a positive diagnosis of IBS without resorting to a battery of tests.” Nevertheless, many physicians obtain some workup.  If a workup is undertaken, the authors state “consider limited testing (CBC, CRP level, celiac serological test, fecal calprotectin level)”

Rome IV criteria of IBS are reviewed in Table 1 and includes warning signs.  Summary of Rome IV critieria from emedicine website on Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The Rome IV criteria for the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome require that patients have had recurrent abdominal pain on average at least 1 day per week during the previous 3 months that is associated with 2 or more of the following [2]:

  • Related to defecation (may be increased or unchanged by defecation)
  • Associated with a change in stool frequency
  • Associated with a change in stool form or appearance

The Rome IV criteria (May 2016) only require abdominal pain in defining this condition; “discomfort” is no longer a requirement owing to its nonspecificity, and the recurrent abdominal pain. 

Supporting symptoms include the following:

  • Altered stool frequency
  • Altered stool form
  • Altered stool passage (straining and/or urgency)
  • Mucorrhea
  • Abdominal bloating or subjective distention

Four bowel patterns may be seen with irritable bowel syndrome, and these remain in the Rome IV classification. These patterns include the following:

  • IBS-D (diarrhea predominant)
  • IBS-C (constipation predominant)
  • IBS-M (mixed diarrhea and constipation)
  • IBS-U (unclassified; the symptoms cannot be categorized into one of the above three subtypes)

Symptoms not consistent with irritable bowel syndrome should alert the clinician to the possibility of an organic pathology. Inconsistent symptoms include the following:

  • Onset in middle age or older
  • Acute symptoms (irritable bowel syndrome is defined by chronicity)
  • Progressive symptoms
  • Nocturnal symptoms
  • Anorexia or weight loss
  • Fever
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Painless diarrhea
  • Steatorrhea
  • Gluten intolerance

The authors provide a diagnostic algorithm which is straight-forward.  The caption includes “tenderness is not increased by tensing abdominal wall muscles.”  The inclusion of Carnett’s sign is a useful reminder to consider/exclude muscle wall etiologies.

Another important point is that bile-acid diarrhea occurs in a significant fraction of adults with the diarrhea subtype of IBS, more than 25% of cases in a meta-analysis; thus, a therapeutic trial of a bile acid sequestrant may be useful.


There are likely multiple pathways leading to IBS. In fact, Figure 2 lays out a Brain-Gut pathway as well as a Gut-Brain pathway. In the former, genetic predisposition and environmental factors/CNS alterations, could make one more susceptible to IBS after localized GI inflammation.  In the later, changes in the GI tract induced by infection, inflammation, food antigens, and medications which could alter intestinal permeability and/or microbiome could result in changes in CNS function (eg. new-onset anxiety, depression or somatization).  It is well-recognized that after gastrointestinal infections (bacterial, protozoal, viral), “IBS-type symptoms persist in 10 to 20% of infected patients.”

Image from NEJM twitter feed. It is noted that not all pathophysiological processes shown occur in all patients with IBS or in all IBS subtypes.



Diet, Meat, and Colorectal Cancer

A recent study (RS Mehta et al. Gastroenterol 2017; 152: 1944 & summarized in editorial, 1821-23) examined the effects of a “Western” diet and a “prudent” diet on the risk of colorectal cancer (CRC). Data was derived from two large prospective cohorts involving more than 137,000 participants for up to 32 years; this equated to 3.6 million person-years of follow-up.

Key findings:

  • Those in the highest quartile of a Western dietary pattern had a 31% increased CRC risk (RR=1.31) compared to those in the lowest quartile. In this context, a Western diet was characterized by consumption of red and processed meats, high-fat dairy products (such as whole milk), refined grains, and desserts.
  • The prudent diet cohort, had a 14% reduced risk for those in the highest quartile compared to the lowest quartile. The ‘prudent’ diet included high intakes of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish.

Based on this study and others, the editorial notes the following:

  • Limit red and processed meat consumption to 0.5 servings or 42 g/day of lean red meat
  • A more ‘prudent’ diet has health benefits beyond reduction of CRC, including lower cardiovascular disease mortality

Related blog post: Colon Cancer at Younger Ages

Piedmont Park, Atlanta

Recent Study Did NOT Find Dementia Risk with PPIs

When performing retrospective studies, many times a potential association can be found with medications or diet and specific problems.  When these risks/associations are low (i.e. relative risks <2), often, these findings do not hold up, particularly with prospective studies which are much more able to control for confounding variables.

For proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), many potential complications have been suggested at  low relative risk findings in poorly-controlled studies.  A recent study has contradicted previous findings suggesting that PPIs increase the risk of dementia.

Goldstein FC, et al. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2017;doi:10.1111/jgs.14956. (Thanks to Ben Gold for this reference)

A link and an excerpt from a summary of this study from Healio Gastroenterology:

Link: Study finds no link between PPIs, dementia, Alzheimer’s risk


They evaluated 10,486 volunteers within the NIH-supported Alzheimer’s Disease Centers who were aged 50 years and older and had either normal cognition or mild cognitive impairment at baseline. Participants underwent neuropsychological evaluations and self-reported PPI use at two to six annual visits between 2005 and 2015.

Overall, 884 reported they were taking PPIs at every visit, 1,925 reported they took PPIs intermittently, and 7,677 never reported taking PPIs.

Those who reported continuous PPI use showed a lower risk for cognitive function decline compared with those who never reported using PPIs (HR = 0.78; 95% CI, 0.66-0.93) as well as a lower risk for developing mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease (HR = 0.82; 95% CI, 0.69-0.98).

Those who reported using PPIs intermittently also showed a lower risk for cognitive function decline (HR = 0.84; 95% CI, 0.76–0.93) and for developing mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease (HR = 0.82; 95% CI, 0.74–0.91).

My take: This study provides reassurance that PPIs are unlikely to result in cognitive decline. Particularly when a study suggests a low risk of an association, further studies are needed to clarify the true risks.

Related blog posts:

Lennon Wall, Prague

Diarrhea Mortality Improving

A  recent story from NPR indicates that globally diarrhea deaths are on the decline, ~30%, from 2005-2015.  In wealthy countries, there has been a mild increase, likely related to Clostridium difficile infection and the use of antibiotics.  The article cautions that data from some parts of the world are questionable due to upheaval.

Full Link: A Good News Story About Diarrhea -With One Surprising Exception

An excerpt:

An infection by E. coli, Cryptosporidium, Shigella or rotavirus, and the resulting diarrhea, is often a death sentence in much of the world. In 2005, about 1.6 million people died from diarrhea-related diseases, and roughly 770,000 of them were kids under 5. But that number has been steadily dropping, as a new study points out…

Published this month in The Lancet, the study shows diarrhea-related deaths have declined about 20 percent from 2005 to 2015 for all ages to 1.3 million people, and 35 percent for children under 5 to about 500,000 children during the same time period.