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Randomized Controlled Trial
, 2 (10), 727-737

Neurostimulation for Abdominal Pain-Related Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders in Adolescents: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Sham-Controlled Trial

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Randomized Controlled Trial

Neurostimulation for Abdominal Pain-Related Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders in Adolescents: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Sham-Controlled Trial

Katja Kovacic et al. Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol.

Abstract

Background: Development of safe and effective therapies for paediatric abdominal pain-related functional gastrointestinal disorders is needed. A non-invasive, US Food and Drug Administration-cleared device (Neuro-Stim, Innovative Health Solutions, IN, USA) delivers percutaneous electrical nerve field stimulation (PENFS) in the external ear to modulate central pain pathways. In this study, we evaluated the efficacy of PENFS in adolescents with abdominal pain-related functional gastrointestinal disorders.

Methods: In this randomised, sham-controlled trial, we enrolled adolescents (aged 11-18 years) who met Rome III criteria for abdominal pain-related functional gastrointestinal disorders from a single US outpatient gastroenterology clinic. Patients were randomly assigned (1:1) with a computer-generated randomisation scheme to active treatment or sham (no electrical charge) for 4 weeks. Patients were stratified by sex and presence or absence of nausea. Allocation was concealed from participants, caregivers, and the research team. The primary efficacy endpoint was change in abdominal pain scores. We measured improvement in worst abdominal pain and composite pain score using the Pain Frequency-Severity-Duration (PFSD) scale. Participants with less than 1 week of data and those with organic disease identified after enrolment were excluded from the modified intention-to-treat population. This trial has been completed and is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT02367729.

Findings: Between June 18, 2015, and Nov 17, 2016, 115 children with abdominal pain-related functional gastrointestinal disorders were enrolled and assigned to either PENFS (n=60) with an active device or sham (n=55). After exclusion of patients who discontinued treatment (n=1 in the PENFS group; n=7 in the sham group) and those who were excluded after randomisation because they had organic disease (n=2 in the PENFS group; n=1 in the sham group), 57 patients in the PENFS group and 47 patients in the sham group were included in the primary analysis. Patients in the PENFS group had greater reduction in worst pain compared with sham after 3 weeks of treatment (PENFS: median score 5·0 [IQR 4·0-7·0]; sham: 7·0 [5·0-9·0]; least square means estimate of change in worse pain 2·15 [95% CI 1·37-2·93], p<0·0001). Effects were sustained for an extended period (median follow-up 9·2 weeks [IQR 6·4-13·4]) in the PENFS group: median 8·0 (IQR 7·0-9·0) at baseline to 6·0 (5·0-8·0) at follow-up versus sham: 7·5 (6·0-9·0) at baseline to 7·0 (5·0-8·0) at follow-up (p<0·0001). Median PFSD composite scores also decreased significantly in the PENFS group (from 24·5 [IQR 16·8-33.3] to 8·4 [3·2-16·2]) compared with sham (from 22·8 [IQR 8·4-38·2] to 15·2 [4·4-36·8]) with a mean decrease of 11·48 (95% CI 6·63-16·32; p<0·0001) after 3 weeks. These effects were sustained at extended follow-up in the PENFS group: median 24·5 (IQR 16·8-33·3) at baseline to 12 (3·6-22·5) at follow-up, compared with sham: 22·8 (8·4-38·2) at baseline to 16·8 (4·8-33·6) at follow-up (p=0·018). Ten patients reported side-effects (three of whom discontinued the study): ear discomfort (n=6; three in the PENFS group, three in the sham group), adhesive allergy (n=3; one in the PENFS group, two in the sham group), and syncope due to needle phobia (n=1; in the sham group). There were no serious adverse events.

Interpretation: Our results show that PENFS with Neuro-Stim has sustained efficacy for abdominal pain-related functional gastrointestinal disorders in adolescents. This safe and effective approach expands treatment options and should be considered as a non-pharmacological alternative for these disorders.

Funding: American Neurogastroenterology and Motility Society.

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