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Background:

Patients consulting with gastro-oesophageal reflux symptoms (GORS) may differ from nonconsulters.

Aim:

To describe these differences in a UK population.

Methods:

A postal questionnaire was sent to 4432 adults. Definitions used were GORS (either heartburn or acid regurgitation on more than six occasions during the previous year), dyspepsia (upper abdominal pain or discomfort on more than six occasions during the previous year) and irritable bowel syndrome (abdominal pain with three or more Manning criteria). Socio-economic status was identified by the Standard Occupational Classification.

Results:

With a 71.7% response, GORS were reported by 28.7% of the sample, it was unaffected by gender and age but was more common among the socially disadvantaged (P < 0.005). Less than 25% of GORS patients consulted during the previous year. Increasing age (χ2 for trend; P < 0.001) and coexisting upper abdominal symptoms (χ2P < 0.001) positively influenced consultation behaviour, but it was unaffected by socio-economic status, gender, or the coexistence of irritable bowel syndrome. Dyspepsia and nausea independently predicted consultation.

Conclusions:

GORS are especially common among the deprived. Socio-economic variables do not affect consultation behaviour, but the patient’s age and the burden (number and type) of associated symptoms do.