Kids with Chronic Nausea Also Tend to Have Many Other Non-GI Symptoms Including Dizziness, Headaches and Anxiety

June 12, 2020

A study from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago reported that children with functional nausea – nausea experienced at least twice a week for at least two months and not due to another medical condition – also tend to suffer from symptoms outside of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, such as headache, fatigue, disturbed sleep, anxiety and dizziness. Abdominal pain was the most common GI symptom that accompanied functional nausea. Findings were published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

“Typically children with functional nausea undergo a number of invasive and non-invasive GI tests, which we found were not very helpful in identifying the cause of nausea nor informing treatment,” says senior author John Fortunato, Jr, MD, pediatric gastroenterologist and Director, Neurointestinal and Motility Program at Lurie Children’s, who also is Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Our results suggest that these children should be systematically screened for a host of common comorbidities involving GI, cardiovascular, psychiatric, neurologic, musculatoskeletal, urologic and constitutional symptoms. A more holistic approach is needed to help us better treat functional nausea and improve outcomes.”

The study included 63 patients, ages 7-18 years, who met the criteria for functional nausea. Lead author Dr. Sally Tarbell, Dr. Fortunato and colleagues found that over 25 percent of these patients had 18 co-occurring symptoms, most of which were outside the GI tract. While nearly 94 percent of patients had abdominal pain, non-GI symptoms were common – headache (82 percent), dizziness (81 percent), fatigue (74 percent), disturbed sleep (71 percent), anxiety (58 percent).

“We also found that nearly 70 percent of our patients in the study missed more than two weeks of school a year because of their symptoms,” says Sally Tarbell, PhD, pediatric psychologist at Lurie Children’s and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “This is significantly higher than the national average for children their age, even those with chronic medical conditions. We need more research to understand the relationship of functional nausea with the comorbidities, which may provide insights into the cause of nausea so we can better tailor care for these children.”

Research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 220,000 children from 48 states and 49 countries.