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Summary

Background: The majority of patients with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease do not present with erosive oesophagitis and make up a heterogeneous group. Patients with non-erosive gastro-oesophageal reflux disease are less responsive than patients with oesophagitis to acid-suppressive therapy.

Aim: To assess the role of acid reflux in gastro-oesophageal reflux disease symptoms.

Methods: The spatio-temporal characteristics of reflux events were analysed and related to reflux perception in 45 patients with non-erosive gastro-oesophageal reflux disease and 20 patients with erosive oesophagitis.

Results: Compared with healthy controls, all patients showed a higher intra-oesophageal proximal spread of acid, which was prominent in patients with non-erosive gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (> 50% of events lasting for 1–2 min). Irrespective of mucosal injury, the risk of reflux perception was very high when acid reached proximal sensors (odds ratio, 7.6; 95% confidence interval, 4.6–12.5), being maximal in patients with non-erosive gastro-oesophageal reflux disease with normal acid exposure time (odds ratio, 11; 95% confidence interval, 5.2–22.3).

Conclusions: Patients with non-erosive gastro-oesophageal reflux disease are characterized by a significantly higher proportion of proximal acid refluxes and a higher sensitivity to short-lasting refluxes when compared with patients with oesophagitis. The highest proximal acid exposure and highest perception occurred in patients with non-erosive gastro-oesophageal reflux disease presenting with a normal pH-metric profile. The assessment of acid distribution and its perception in the oesophageal body can better identify reflux patients who should benefit from acid-suppressive treatment.