If you have a gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, you know that managing it can be difficult enough on its own; however, new research reveals that individuals suffering from certain GI disorders are also more likely to have other health problems. Past research has demonstrated that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often experience more non-GI ailments than people who do not have IBS. Until now, researchers have not focused on trying to see if this is true for other functional GI disorders as well, such as functional dyspepsia (FD). However, a new study published in the journal, Digestive Diseases and Sciences,1 did just that and revealed that individuals who suffer from FD, when compared to the rest of the population, might also be more likely to experience additional health issues.

Functional dyspepsia is a chronic disorder of sensation and movement (peristalsis) in the upper digestive tract. Peristalsis is the normal downward pumping and squeezing of the esophagus, stomach, and intestines, which begins after swallowing. We call this disorder functional because there are no observable or measurable structural or organic abnormalities found to explain persistent problems. Symptoms of FD include amplified sensation in the upper gut (visceral hyperalgesia) due to uncoordinated and possibly ineffectual emptying of the stomach contents, with resulting symptoms of pain, fullness, bloating, and an inability to finish meals (early satiety). Other common symptoms of FD include heartburn, a sour taste in the mouth, excessive burping, nausea, and sometimes vomiting – symptoms that overlap with those of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Functional dyspepsia may come and go and symptoms could present with increased severity for several weeks or months and then decrease or disappear entirely for some time, with no known cause.

In this current study, the researchers analyzed data from paid health insurance claims to see if individuals who sought help for FD also received treatment for other conditions more often than individuals without the disorder. They classified all medical conditions into 17 major diagnostic categories, and further into 261 smaller categories within those, using a system developed by the United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. After tallying information from 1,669 individuals with FD, and 83,450 control subjects from a similar demographic, they found that the FD group required significantly more medical attention in 15 of the 17 major diagnostic categories. Compared to the control group, the individuals with FD were 6 times more likely to have other problems related to the digestive system, 2.5 times more likely to get blood or blood-forming organ related disorders, and twice as likely to develop mental disorders, infections, and parasitic diseases. However, they were no more likely than the control group to develop problems related to pregnancy, childbirth, or the perinatal period.

In addition, those with FD typically required more healthcare services, which expressed as greater costs to healthcare than did the controls. Researchers found that services for FD sufferers were more costly in 155 of the smaller diagnostic categories, and that FD patients used more medical services than the controls in 179 categories. On the other hand, no categories were more costly for the control group, and they used more services in only one category (pregnancy-related conditions). It is significant that these statistics are so one-sided, because this shows that the results are unlikely due to chance, and therefore more reliable.


This study also shed some light on how functional dyspepsia relates to a few other GI complaints. The researchers found that individuals with FD are eight times more likely to have IBS than are the general population. In addition, they were more likely to develop cancer in the esophagus, stomach, and pancreas than those in the control group. However, these researchers reassure us that functional dyspepsia likely does not lead to cancer, and that perhaps in a small group of individuals, dyspepsia-like symptoms may result from unrelated cancer or its treatment.


First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 181 – 2012
1. Brook RA et al. Excess Comorbidity Prevalence and Cost Associated with Functional Dyspepsia in an Employed Population. Digestive Diseases and Sciences. 2011;57(1):109-18.