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Real Talk: Eosinophilic Diseases


May 30, 2024

Co-host Ryan Piansky, a graduate student and patient advocate living with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) and eosinophilic asthma, and co-host Holly Knotowicz, a speech-language pathologist living with EoE, who serves on APFED’s Health Sciences Advisory Council, have a conversation about food-induced immediate response in eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), with guest Dr. Nirmala Gonsalves, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, and Co-Director of the Northwestern Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disorders Program.

 

In this episode, Ryan, Holly, and Dr. Nirmala Gonsalves discuss food-induced immediate response in EoE, recent and ongoing research into FIRE, and advice for providers.

 

Listen to this episode to learn about food-induced immediate response (FIRE).

Disclaimer: The information provided in this podcast is designed to support, not replace the relationship that exists between listeners and their healthcare providers. Opinions, information, and recommendations shared in this podcast are not a substitute for medical advice. Decisions related to medical care should be made with your healthcare provider. Opinions and views of guests and co-hosts are their own.

 

Key Takeaways:

[:50] Ryan Piansky and co-host Holly Knotowicz introduce the topic of today’s episode, food-induced immediate response in eosinophilic esophagitis, and their guest, Dr. Nirmala Gonsalves, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine.

 

[1:38] Dr. Gonsalves is the Co-Director of the Northwestern Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disorders Program. Her research and clinical career are dedicated to improving the care of patients with eosinophilic gastrointestinal diseases, or EGIDs.

 

[1:53] Dr. Gonsalves’s extensive clinical experiences with EGIDs have shaped her research goals, which include identifying novel treatments and determining the best methods to measure disease activity.

 

[2:20] Dr. Nirmala Gonsalves has been at Northwestern for 25 years and has been involved in the EGID and EoE space for the last 20 years. Dr. Gonsalves met Ryan during her first introduction to APFED when Ryan was “much, much younger,” so she is pleased to see him co-hosting this podcast.

 

[2:56] Within Northwestern Medicine, Dr. Gonsalves is part of the Esophageal Group. Within the Esophageal Group, she co-directs the Eosinophilic GI Disorders Program with Dr. Ikuo Hirano. Working in the EGID space for the last 20 years has been incredibly rewarding.

 

[3:11] Dr. Gonsalves feels lucky to be a part of The International Gastrointestinal Eosinophil Researchers (TIGERS) and the Consortium of Eosinophilic and Gastrointestinal Disease Researchers (CEGIR).

 

[3:26] Dr. Gonsalves has focused her clinical career on understanding eosinophilic GI disorders, helping to get better diagnoses, increased awareness, and better treatments, and improving the quality of life for patients with these conditions.

 

[4:19] Dr. Gonsalves describes the study of food-induced immediate response in eosinophilic esophagitis (FIRE). In 2017, gastroenterologist Dr. Alex Straumann, and allergist Dr. Mark Holbreich, both very familiar with EGID, started a multi-center effort and project, working with many physicians and patients to define this condition of FIRE.

 

[4:45] The symptoms of FIRE are very different from what we typically think about as EoE symptoms. The classic symptoms of EoE in adults are dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), or food impaction (a bolus of food stuck in the esophagus).

 

[5:37] This team of researchers in Switzerland, Northwestern, Indiana, North Carolina, Colorado, and Mt. Sinai, to name a few centers, noticed patients describing different symptoms; a more immediate response that was happening in their esophagus when they were exposed to certain specific foods, like beer or wine and avocado or banana.

 

[6:19] Patients described an immediate reaction in their esophagus, occurring any time from seconds to minutes after ingesting that food, as a painful, squeezing sensation, and a narrowing in their esophagus that was temporally related to these foods.

 

[6:42] It started to increase the researchers' awareness that this symptom was different from the classic dysphagia that adults and older children typically present with.

 

[7:12] In the study, they did a two-phased investigation. First, they sent a survey to physicians used to treating EoE, to understand what their experience was about these symptoms. Based on that knowledge, they convened twice to develop a questionnaire for patients, to understand how common this is in the patient population.

 

[7:38] The response was 47 physicians (an 82% response rate). They sent the patient survey to the EoE Swiss cohort and the response was 239 patients (a 65% response rate.)

 

[7:58] Of the physicians, 90% reported patients reporting these symptoms. The physicians estimated this to occur in 5 to 20% of EoE patients. Looking at the patients who had FIRE with EoE, vs. EoE without FIRE, the FIRE patients were younger and more likely to have other atopic conditions like rhinitis, asthma, and dermatitis.

 

[8:42] Patients with FIRE were more likely to have had a prior food impaction, a longer duration of disease, and a longer time to symptom presentation. Those were the risk factors in the patients.

 

[8:56] In the patient questionnaire, 40% of the EoE patients surveyed reported that they had symptoms of FIRE.


[9:29] Most of the patients in the study were adult patients. Looking at the average age of the EoE cohort vs. the EoE with FIRE cohort, the EoE with FIRE patients tended to be younger. Dr. Gonsalves suspects that patients are experiencing FIRE earlier on, but they don’t know what is occurring.


[9:56] Dr. Gonsalves thinks that is where the investigation is going: to understand when FIRE is happening. The symptoms are quite different than the typical first EoE symptom when something is going down slower or getting caught in the esophagus.

 

[10:27] As far as whether FIRE is experienced by other patients besides EoE patients, the survey team only noticed FIRE in EoE patients. A follow-up study could look at the control cohort or the regular reflux cohort. Patients don’t express these types of symptoms, other than EoE patients, so it seems unique to EoE patients.

 

[10:53] When the team talked about and tried to understand more about the background of FIRE, and the risk factors, they wondered if it was similar to oral pollen syndrome, with a more immediate reaction in the esophagus.

 

[11:49] With adults, certain liquors, wines, beers, avocados, and bananas stand out among triggers. The symptoms are so significant that patients would say on a scale of one to ten, it’s a seven intensity. It’s fairly immediate, within seconds to minutes, with a duration of minutes to several hours.

 

[12:18] A lot of times, patients compensate by not eating those specific foods because they don’t want that condition to happen. For some patients, it’s a profound spasm-type squeezing in their chest that will occur when this happens.

 

[13:44] Dr. Gonsalves says many patients will confuse FIRE with an anaphylactic reaction; it’s not clear what it is. The multidisciplinary group of physicians that worked on this study included allergists and gastroenterologists all tried to come up with the mechanism that causes FIRE. It does not appear to be an anaphylactic reaction.

 

[14:13] When FIRE occurs, the doctors of the multidisciplinary group ask their patients to seek care from their allergist and discuss this with their allergist, to get more testing and understanding of what’s occurring. They want to be mindful if there’s any risk of anaphylaxis, but it does not appear that the FIRE condition is related to anaphylaxis.

 

[14:55] Dr. Gonsalves says we’re at the very early stages of understanding the mechanisms of why FIRE is occurring. The first step was to increase awareness, define FIRE, understand it, and separate it from both EoE symptoms and anaphylaxis. We don’t yet understand the mechanisms.

 

[15:18] At Northwestern, they are looking at a study to define FIRE better. They look to see if there is IgE sensitivity to these foods. If there are not, they look to see if there are any nanometric changes in the esophagus when these foods are in the esophagus. Are people having the esophageal spasms that equate to the symptoms they describe?

 

[16:03] That study is to understand more about the mechanisms causing FIRE. What happens to the FIRE symptoms? Once a physician treats a patient with EoE, the FIRE gets better. Patients sometimes can reintroduce the foods when their EoE is quiet. There is a short window of time to identify FIRE in a patient before treatment.

 

[16:43] Early identification and early treatment is the mantra. They don’t want to delay treatment in any patient. When the EoE goes in remission from treatment, the FIRE symptoms tend to go into remission, also.

 

[17:01] This is unpublished data and research they are working on. Hopefully, they will learn more and be able to share it with APFED. These are their speculations.

 

[18:17] At Northwestern, they are known for dietary therapy. Their patients gravitate toward diet therapy. The foods involved in FIRE symptoms are not big EoE triggers. In dietary therapy, when foods are reintroduced, patients describe recurrent dysphagia, heartburn, and EoE-type symptoms.

 

[18:56] Patients having foods reintroduced don’t typically describe this immediate reaction where their esophagus is spasming, contracting, and feeling very tight right after. That’s a very different symptom.

 

[19:17] For the patients studied, the foods most consistently triggering FIRE symptoms were fruits, wines, vegetables, honey, beers, and vinegar. The foods driving FIRE tend to be the foods driving oral allergy but the symptoms are different; no mouth, tongue, or lip itching, but a squeezing sensation in the esophagus.

 

[20:29] Dr. Gonsalves says they have not identified long-term consequences of FIRE. They are very early in the stages of understanding and following it. The long-term consequences come from untreated EoE. Dr. Gonsalves lists some consequences of untreated EoE, including worsening scarring, strictures, and dysphagia.

 

[21:08] Dr. Gonsalves speculates and wonders if physicians were sometimes confused between dysphagia, oral-pollen allergy symptoms, and FIRE symptoms, without it being clear what the patient was experiencing, leading to a delay in diagnosis.

 

[21:52] Dr. Gonsalves says having patients with FIRE symptoms highlights the importance of having a multidisciplinary program and having a good collaboration with allergists, dieticians, and GI health psychologists to address food fear and anxiety, pathologists, and pediatricians. It’s important to have conversations with colleagues.

 

[22:31] Dr. Gonsalves says there’s no test for FIRE, which is why we’re doing this research project; understanding what is behind FIRE, now that we know FIRE exists, we have a description, and we know how prevalent it is. We need to look at the patient and look for contractions of the esophagus upon exposure to the food with manometry.

 

[23:18] Manometry is a tube with pressure sensors used for measuring esophageal pressure and the strength of contractions. Patients with EoE have various abnormalities in their esophageal contractions. To study FIRE, with the manometry tube in place, the patient will eat the trigger food or drink to see if there are heightened contractions.

 

[25:24] Manometry is not an easy test. It is done when necessary to understand esophageal motility and function. It’s not easy to recruit for these tests and there are not many candidates as the symptoms go away quickly with treatment. The technicians are skilled in doing the testing. It’s done routinely and safely.

 

[26:47] Dietary, pharmacological, steroidal, and biological treatments can be effective in treating EoE symptoms. When EoE symptoms stop, FIRE typically stops. There has not been a study to document this, but it has been observed clinically. After a patient has been treated and then is tested for esophageal motility, FIRE does not typically recur.

 

[28:05] Dr. Gonsalves shares her suspicion that there is something related to esophageal inflammation that triggers this type of response and a hypercontractile state in that setting. Ryan reminds listeners that this podcast is not medical advice; always consult with your physician before making any changes or trying new treatment options.

 

[29:40] When a provider talks to a patient, they might ask about dysphagia if they are making modifications for swallowing, and how they swallow something dry or dense. Can they perceive it going slowly down their esophagus? Are they taking in lots of liquid to help this food pass? Are they chewing excessively? Are they avoiding foods or pills?

 

[30:40] These questions help providers understand if there is disease activity and if they are not symptomatic because of avoiding these types of foods. Those are EoE questions.

 

[30:52] Asking about FIRE symptoms or oral pollen allergy symptoms, the provider will go down a list of allergic history questions about allergic rhinitis, asthma, eczema, and anaphylactic symptoms. Also, mouth itching, lip-tingling, or throat itching when they eat certain foods.

 

[31:20] After they eat these foods, do they ever experience an immediate sensation of narrowing or tightening or spasm in the esophagus, or burning pain that happens secondary to the dysphagia? The important thing is to separate the transit dysphagia of things moving slower down the esophagus from this perception of squeezing pain.

 

[32:18] Holly thanks Dr. Gonsalves for sharing her expertise to help others.

 

[32:37] Dr. Gonsalves’s last word is that this condition exists. Providers, ask your patients about them. It was remarkable to Dr. Gonsalves how profound the symptoms were that patients described to the point where they avoided these foods and were scared of these foods.

 

[32:56] Interestingly, FIRE is very different from EoE symptoms. It does exist. Ask about it! That will help tease out the reactions that are occurring. Especially, understand that when going on a food elimination diet, these are separate from the EoE triggers.

 

[33:18] If you identify these symptoms, or oral pollen symptoms, or coexisting atopic conditions, partner with an allergist so that we understand the mechanisms behind this and make sure that nobody is at risk for anaphylaxis from these types of things.

 

[33:49] Dr. Gonsalves is pleased to partner with TIGERS and to be on a site for the CEGIR Group. Dr. Gonsalves heads up the development of the Non-EoE Consensus Guidelines, to understand what goes into a diagnosis of Non-EoE EGID and what that entails. She continues to research dietary therapy and making it better for patients.

 

[34:31] She works to understand different metrics to measure activity in the esophagus, histologically as well as motility-based, and the genetic changes that occur with different treatments, and doing all this, partnered with an amazing group of collaborators through the CEGIR Consortium and others to improve patients’ quality of life.

 

[35:01] Dr. Gonsalves feels lucky that 20-something years ago, she bumped into the leaders of APFED and other patient advocacy groups and shared their experience with Northwestern. She is grateful for the privilege of working with all the wonderful physicians and patients who help us learn about these conditions.

 

[35:46] To learn more about Dr. Gonsalves’s research, please check out the links in the show notes. To learn more about eosinophilic gastrointestinal disorders, visit apfed.org/egids. If you’re looking for a specialist who treats eosinophilic disorders, use APFED’s specialist finder at apfed.org/specialist.

[36:10] To connect with others impacted by eosinophilic diseases, please join APFED’s online community on the Inspire Network at apfed.org/connections.

 

[36:21] Ryan thanks Dr. Nirmala Gonsalves for joining us today. Holly thanks APFED’s Education Partners, AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, and Regeneron, linked below, for supporting this episode.

 

Mentioned in This Episode:

Nirmala Gonsalves, MD

Northwestern Medicine Feinberg School of Medicine

Ikuo Hirano, MD

Publication discussed: Food-induced immediate response of the esophagus — A newly identified syndrome in patients with eosinophilic esophagitis
American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders (APFED)

APFED on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram

Real Talk: Eosinophilic Diseases Podcast

apfed.org/egids

apfed.org/specialist

apfed.org/connections

 

Education Partners: This episode of APFED’s podcast is brought to you thanks to the support of AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, and Regeneron.

 

Tweetables:

 

“Working in the EGID space for the last 20 years; it’s been incredibly rewarding. I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to be a part of The International Gastrointestinal Eosinophil Researchers (TIGERS).” — Nirmala Gonsalves, M.D.

 

“Our patients will describe it; it’s a profound spasm-type squeezing in their chest that will occur when FIRE happens.” — Nirmala Gonsalves, M.D.

 

“There’s no clear test yet for FIRE, which is why we’re doing this research project; really understanding what is behind FIRE, now that we know FIRE exists, we have a description of it and we know how prevalent it is.” — Nirmala Gonsalves, M.D.

 

Bio:

Dr. Gonsalves is a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Co-Director of the Northwestern Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disorders Program. She completed her undergraduate training at the University of Notre Dame, medical school at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, and her internship, residency, and fellowship at Northwestern, where she has stayed on as an attending physician since 2005. In this role, she has co-authored more than 60 manuscripts and presented at more than 40 national or international meetings that focus on eosinophilic gastrointestinal diseases (EGIDs). Her research and clinical career is dedicated to improving the care of patients with these rare disorders. Her extensive clinical experiences with EGIDs have shaped the overarching research goals that include identifying novel treatments and determining the best methods to measure disease activity. She is a site investigator for the NIH-funded U54 Grant Consortium of Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disease Researchers (CEGIR, PI-Rothenberg) and Core Lead for the Northwestern Biorepository for an NIH sponsored PPG Grant on Esophageal Biomechanics (PI-Pandolfino).