Mapping and modeling of discussions related to gastrointestinal discomfort in French-speaking online forums: Results of a 15-Year retrospective infodemiology study.
- Deep Digital Phenotyping Research Unit
BACKGROUND: Gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort is prevalent and known to be associated with impaired quality of life. Real-world information on factors of GI discomfort and solutions used by people is, however, limited. Social media, including online forums, have been considered a new source of information to examine the health of populations in real-life settings. OBJECTIVE: The aims of this retrospective infodemiology study are to identify discussion topics, characterize users, and identify perceived determinants of GI discomfort in web-based messages posted by users of French social media. METHODS: Messages related to GI discomfort posted between January 2003 and August 2018 were extracted from 14 French-speaking general and specialized publicly available online forums. Extracted messages were cleaned and deidentified. Relevant medical concepts were determined on the basis of the Medical Dictionary for Regulatory Activities and vernacular terms. The identification of discussion topics was carried out by using a correlated topic model on the basis of the latent Dirichlet allocation. A nonsupervised clustering algorithm was applied to cluster forum users according to the reported symptoms of GI discomfort, discussion topics, and activity on online forums. Users' age and gender were determined by linear regression and application of a support vector machine, respectively, to characterize the identified clusters according to demographic parameters. Perceived factors of GI discomfort were classified by a combined method on the basis of syntactic analysis to identify messages with causality terms and a second topic modeling in a relevant segment of phrases. RESULTS: A total of 198,866 messages associated with GI discomfort were included in the analysis corpus after extraction and cleaning. These messages were posted by 36,989 separate web users, most of them being women younger than 40 years. Everyday life, diet, digestion, abdominal pain, impact on the quality of life, and tips to manage stress were among the most discussed topics. Segmentation of users identified 5 clusters corresponding to chronic and acute GI concerns. Diet topic was associated with each cluster, and stress was strongly associated with abdominal pain. Psychological factors, food, and allergens were perceived as the main causes of GI discomfort by web users. CONCLUSIONS: GI discomfort is actively discussed by web users. This study reveals a complex relationship between food, stress, and GI discomfort. Our approach has shown that identifying web-based discussion topics associated with GI discomfort and its perceived factors is feasible and can serve as a complementary source of real-world evidence for caregivers.