BACKGROUND: There is a controversial association between Helicobacter pylori infection and recurrent abdominal pain (RAP) in childhood and inconsistent information on specific symptomatology of the infection.
AIMS: To examine the prevalence of H. pylori infection among children with RAP compared to asymptomatic children.
METHODS: Two prospective studies were conducted. The first study enrolled 223 children diagnosed with RAP from two pediatric gastroenterology clinics in Houston, Texas. Children were qualified if they were identified by their physician as having RAP. A new multidimensional measure for RAP (MM-RAP) consisting of four scales (pain intensity scale, symptoms scale, disability scale, and satisfaction scale) was administered to each child/parent. The second study enrolled 330 asymptomatic children from the same community who did not have any upper gastrointestinal symptoms. Symptomatic and asymptomatic children underwent (13)C-urea breath testing.
RESULTS: In the first study, the prevalence of H. pylori in children with RAP was 11% and fell with age from 20% at age < or = 5 years to 7% for children > 10 years (OR = 2.7, 95% CI = 0.7-11.2). There was no association between the mother's educational level and H. pylori prevalence; (12% among children whose mothers completed college versus 11% among those who had elementary school, p = .8). No relationship was found between H. pylori and mean scores of the RAP scales. In the second study, the prevalence of H. pylori in asymptomatic children was 17% and increased with age from 11% for children < or = 5 years to 40% for children > 10 years (OR = 5.4, 95% CI = 2.0-13.8). The mother's educational level was inversely correlated with H. pylori (OR = 3.0, 95% CI = 2.2-6.1, p < .01).
CONCLUSIONS: The epidemiologic patterns of H. pylori infection differed significantly between symptomatic and asymptomatic children. Younger children suffering from RAP are more likely to be infected with H. pylori than older children with the same complaint, suggesting that early acquisition may manifest in symptoms that lead to clinic visits.