Non-specific abdominal pain: could air pollution be the culprit?

Non-specific abdominal pain (NSAP) is among the most common reasons for visits to emergency departments and a new study by Dr Gilaad Kaplan, assistant professor of medicine, University of Calgary, and his colleagues suggests air pollution could play a role.

NSAP is diagnosed when the cause of abdominal pain is not discovered and triggers of acute pain are not known. The investigators identified more than 95,000 patients discharged from emergency departments with NSAP from hospitals in Edmonton, Alberta. The study was replicated in more than 25,000 abdominal pain patients presenting to a hospital in downtown Montreal, Quebec. Data from Environment Canada's National Air Pollution Surveillance were used to determine the hourly levels of ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter of varying sizes (PM10 & PM2.5).

The investigators discovered that nearly two-thirds of visits for NSAP were by women, the majority being 15 to 24 years old and that young women (who are also most at risk of irritable bowel syndrome) were more likely
to visit emergency departments in Edmonton and Montreal for NSAP on days when indicators of air pollution were elevated.

However, they add that this research is in its early stages and that future studies will need to confirm the connection between air pollution and abdominal pain and to discover how air pollution could be relevant to the development of abdominal pain.

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First Published in Sptember 2009

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