Background: The European Society for Paediatric Gasteroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) issued two sets of recommendations for the treatment of infants with acute gastroenteritis (1992, 1997). The purpose of this multicentre study performed in 29 European countries was to determine how closely current treatment compares with the ESPGHAN recommendations.
Methods: The outline of the study was based on a questionnaire that addressed the management of a 6-month-old infant with acute gastroenteritis complicated by mild to moderate dehydration. National coordinators circulated the questionnaire to randomly selected primary care physicians and to hospital-based paediatricians.
Results: A total of 2997 questionnaires were returned, of which 1768 were from Western Europe (WE) and 1229 from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Eighty-four percent of responding physicians said they would follow the ESPGHAN recommendation to use oral rehydration solution (ORS) for rehydration, with 66% using an ORS containing 60 mmol/l sodium ORS. Only 16% (WE 15%, CEE 19%) would follow the guidelines and use rapid oral rehydration over 3 to 4 hours. Forty-five percent would rehydrate infants in a 3- to 6-hour period (WE 35%, CEE 60%), and 17% (WE 23%, CEE 9%) would extend the rehydration period to 12 to 24 hours. ESPGHAN recommendation of rapid reintroduction of normal feeding after 3 to 4 hours of oral rehydration would be followed by only 21% of responding physicians, and only 43% (WE 46%, CEE 38%) would start feeding with full-strength formula. However, the guideline about continuation of breast-feeding is widely followed (total 77%; WE 78%, CEE 75%). Thirty-six percent (WE 45%, CEE 23%) use a lactose-containing formula after successful oral rehydration. Contrary to the ESPGHAN guideline 35% (WE 30%, CEE 42%) would use a lactose-free formula and 19% (WE 12%, CEE 28%) a lactose and cow's milk protein-free formula. Only 37% (WE 30%, CEE 46%) of responding physicians would follow the recommendation to use ORS to replace ongoing losses from watery diarrhoea.
Conclusions: The results of the survey suggest that with the exception of recommending ORS for rehydration and continuation of breast-feeding during diarrhoea, a minority of responding European physicians follow the ESPGHAN guidelines for optimal management of children with acute gastroenteritis.