Value of Heartburn for Diagnosing Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Severely Obese Patients


  • The costs of publication of this article were defrayed, in part, by the payment of page charges. This article must, therefore, be hereby marked “advertisement” in accordance with 18 U.S.C. Section 1734 solely to indicate this fact.

Unidad de Pruebas Funcionales, Servicio Medicina Digestiva, Hospital La Fe, Avenida Campanar 21, 46009 Valencia, Spain. E-mail:


Objective: To evaluate the prevalence of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in severely obese patients and the association between symptoms and objective data of GERD in this population.

Research Methods and Procedures: A total of 158 consecutive severely obese patients (BMI ≥ 40 kg/m2) were prospectively evaluated. Symptoms were evaluated by a structured clinical questionnaire. Objective assessment was made by ambulatory 24-hour esophageal pH monitoring and endoscopy. GERD was defined by the presence of symptoms or complications (esophagitis). The clinical criterion defining GERD was the presence of at least two episodes of heartburn per week.

Results: The mean age of the 138 patients subjected to complete study was 42.6 ± 10.2 years, with a BMI of 50.1 ± 6.9 kg/m2 (range, 40.6 to 69.4 kg/m2); 78% were women. The prevalence of GERD evaluated by symptoms and/or esophagitis was 33.3% (46/138). Clinical criteria of GERD were present in 31/138 cases (22.5%), and 26 (18.8%) had esophagitis. In 69/138 patients (50%), pHmetry was abnormal. Fifty-three patients with esophagitis and/or abnormal pHmetry were asymptomatic. The sensitivity of heartburn as a diagnostic criterion of GERD in patients with severe obesity was 29.3%, with a specificity of 85.7%. No significant association was observed between severe obesity grade and the prevalence of symptoms and/or objective data.

Discussion: Asymptomatic gastroesophageal reflux (abnormal esophageal acid exposure and/or reflux esophagitis) is more common than symptomatic gastroesophageal reflux in severely obese patients. Increased BMI is not associated with a greater prevalence of GERD in these patients.