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Celiac disease linked to psychosocial distress

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A recent study found elevated rates of psychosocial distress among children with celiac disease compared to the general population.

Shayna Coburn, Ph.D., assistant professor and psychologist at Children’s National Hospital, is the lead author of a recent article on the first study to report mental health disorders (MHD) in North American children with celiac disease (CeD). The study found elevated rates of psychosocial distress among the children compared to the general population.

The study is based on electronic surveys of patients’ MHD history, psychological symptoms and experiences with the gluten-free diet (GFD) as well as follow-up visits to the Multidisciplinary Celiac Disease Clinic at Children’s National between spring 2017 and spring 2018. The survey participants included 73 parents of children ages 3 to 18 attending the clinic. The researchers calculated rates of MHD in the children and compared them to National Institute of Mental Health population-level data.

Thirty-four percent of the children had at least one MHD. Their rates of anxiety disorders (16%) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, 16%,) were more common than general population rates. More than one-quarter of parents reported current psychosocial distress in their child (28-39%), and approximately half reported their own stress (51%) and worry about the financial burden (46%) associated with the GFD – the only treatment for the disease.

The findings are detailed in an article titled “Mental Health Disorders and Psychosocial Distress in Pediatric Celiac Disease,” which appears on the website of the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. The article is scheduled to appear in the May 2020 print edition of the journal, which will be available April 24.

Coburn and her co-authors also compared the experiences of children diagnosed with CeD less than three months prior to the study with those diagnosed more than three months prior. They were surprised to find that patients’ rates of comorbid CeD and MHD didn’t differ depending on the time of diagnosis, says Coburn.

Parents of children with new CeD diagnoses were less confident in the GFD, but the timing of a CeD diagnosis did not affect the rates of MHD, stress and financial burden. Children with MHD had more anxiety, anger and overall distress as well as parents who were suffering with distress than those without MHD.

The researchers’ findings about the timing of diagnosis “seemed to indicate that perhaps there’s a chronic stress burden on families that doesn’t necessarily improve with time and might be exacerbated in children who have mental health disorders,” says Coburn, who directs psychosocial services for the hospital’s Celiac Disease Program.

Overall, the findings emphasize the importance of ongoing routine screening and treatment for psychosocial distress associated with CeD and the GFD.

The start of the study coincided with the establishment of the clinic, where Coburn and her colleagues were seeing patients with comorbid CeD and MHD. At the clinic, patients and their families are treated by a gastroenterologist as well as the clinic’s nutritionist, education team, psychologist, neurologist and neuropsychologist during an integrative multidisciplinary appointment.

Coburn notes that generally the psychosocial impact on patients with CeD has been overlooked or viewed as a minor condition. “Our work is showing that there are a lot of psychosocial vulnerabilities in children and adults with celiac disease.”

As she continues her research, Coburn sees a need “to advocate for incorporating psychological screening into routine medical treatment of patients with celiac disease. We’d like this to be part of best practices and want to develop behavioral treatments for patients so they’re succeeding with the gluten-free diet.”

“With ADHD there are problems with impulse control, which can make it extra hard to maintain a gluten-free diet,” says Coburn. The co-principal investigators want to study in-depth some of the families who participated in the earlier study to gauge how effectively they’re able to manage ADHD symptoms in order to maintain a gluten-free diet.

Coburn and Maegan Sady, a neuropsychologist at Children’s National, have received a $25,000 grant from the Lambert Family Foundation to study comorbid ADHD and CeD and how they affect a patient’s ability to adhere to the GFD.

Shayna Coburn

Shayna Coburn, Ph.D., receives APA Achievement Award for Early Career Psychologists

Shayna Coburn

Shayna Coburn, Ph.D assistant professor and psychologist at Children’s National Health System.

Shayna Coburn, Ph.D., assistant professor and psychologist at Children’s National Health System, has been awarded an American Psychological Association (APA) Achievement Award for Early Career Psychologists.

APA’s Committee on Early Career Psychologists announced the award for early career members who work in all areas of psychology (education, practice, public interest and science) to attend the APA Annual Convention August 2018 in San Francisco.

“At this early stage in my career, the recognition of my achievements thus far is highly valuable as I expand my body of work and strive to advance my career,” Coburn says.

The awards program was designed to reduce barriers to early career members’ attending APA conventions and to support their ability to make meaningful connections and engage in professional development. As a recipient of the award, Coburn received reimbursement up to $400 for convention-related expenses that could cover travel, lodging, meals and/or convention registration fees.

Throughout her career, Coburn has been passionate about clinical and research excellence as well as advocacy. In her current position in the celiac disease program, she has been involved with establishing a new psychosocial health program that combines multidisciplinary clinical service, research and community outreach.

During a previous APA convention, Coburn was able to attend as an exhibitor to promote a free continuing education program. This year was the first time she was featured as a presenter, speaking about celiac disease and psychosocial challenges associated with the disease.

Coburn presented data from Children’s National celiac disease multidisciplinary clinic to report the incidence rates of symptoms that patients experience such as anxiety, depression and stress from a gluten-free diet.

“The most important aspect of the award was having the largest organization of psychologists recognize that during the early stages of my career, I have been involved in work that is meaningful to the community,” Coburn says. “It’s always helpful to have extra support to attend a conference that is across the country from my home in Maryland,” she adds.

The leader and collaborator in a range of scientific, clinical and community-based activities thanks the award for being invaluable in facilitating her attending the conference and being able to participate in career-building and networking opportunities that will help enable her to build professional relationships nationwide.