Wheelchair use: a physical sign in gastroenterological practice

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SUMMARYDiagnosis of functional abdominal pain requires exclusion of organic causes, and many patients undergo considerable investigation. A positive physical sign supporting a functional diagnosis could therefore be of benefit. Wheelchair use specifically for abdominal symptoms was suspected to represent such a sign.Review of 300 consecutive new referrals to a gastroenterology clinic revealed 10 wheelchair users. In four women the chair was used because of the abdominal condition. The final diagnosis (with follow-up to at least 12 months) was functional abdominal pain in each of these cases. All four had had surgery without symptom relief, and all had used their chairs intermittently (mainly for social occasions and hospital visits) for at least 12 months. They believed that normal walking was rendered impossible by abdominal pain whereas the other six wheelchair users gave a clear account of lower limb pain or weakness. Secondary gain with reinforcement of the 'sick role' was felt to be the probable explanation for wheelchair use in the former group.Wheelchair attendance at the gastroenterology clinic, in the absence of lower limb symptoms, is a rare observation but one that may usefully be added to criteria for diagnosis of a functional disorder.

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