Background : Patients with endoscopy-negative heartburn can be subdivided into non-erosive reflux disease and functional heartburn on the basis of abnormal and normal, respectively, oesophageal acid exposure. Different pathophysiological characteristics could explain the reportedly low efficacy of proton pump inhibitors in functional heartburn.
Aim : To assess if non-erosive reflux disease and functional heartburn are pathophysiologically distinguishable.
Methods : Oesophageal manometry and pH-monitoring were performed in 145 patients with endoscopy-negative heartburn, in 72 patients with erosive reflux disease, in 58 patients with complicated reflux disease, and in 60 controls.
Results : Patients with non-erosive reflux disease (84 cases) and functional heartburn (61 cases) differed with regard to the prevalence of hiatal hernia (49% vs. 31%, P = 0.008), the mean lower oesophageal sphincter tone (18.5 vs. 28.4 mmHg, P < 0.05), and the number of upright diurnal acid refluxes lasting more than 5 min (3.6 vs. 0.37, P < 0.05). The results were very close in thenon-erosive reflux disease, erosive reflux disease and complicated reflux disease groups, whilst patients with functional heartburn were indistinguishable from controls.
Conclusions : Pathophysiological characteristics typical of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease are found in patients with non-erosive reflux disease but not in patients with functional heartburn. This could explain the reportedly low efficacy of proton pump inhibitors in functional heartburn and suggests considering different management strategies.