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Multimodality evaluation of patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms who have failed empiric proton pump inhibitor therapy


  • Funding: None.

  • Competing interests: No conflicts of interest exist for any of the authors.

  • Authors' contribution:

  • Giancarlo Galindo: Analysis and interpretation of data; statistical analysis; technical and material support.

  • Jennifer Vassalle: Acquisition of data; technical and material support.

  • Samuel N. Marcus: Acquisition of data; critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content; administrative and material support.

  • George Triadafilopoulos: Study concept and design; acquisition of data; analysis and interpretation of data; drafting of the manuscript; critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content; statistical analysis; administrative, technical, and material support; study supervision.

Dr George Triadafilopoulos, MD, Stanford University School of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Alway Building, M211, MC: 5187, 300 Pasteur Drive, Stanford, CA 94305-5202, USA. Email:


Patients with symptoms suggestive of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), such as chest pain, heartburn, regurgitation, and dysphagia, are typically treated initially with a course of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). The evaluation of patients who have either not responded at all or partially and inadequately responded to such therapy requires a more detailed history and may involve an endoscopy and esophageal biopsies, followed by esophageal manometry, ambulatory esophageal pH monitoring, and gastric emptying scanning. To assess the merits of a multimodality ‘structural’ and ‘functional’ assessment of the esophagus in patients who have inadequately controlled GERD symptoms despite using empiric PPI, a retrospective cohort study of patients without any response or with poor symptomatic control to empiric PPI (>2 months duration) who were referred to an Esophageal Studies Unit was conducted. Patients were studied using symptom questionnaires, endoscopy (+ or – for erosive disease, or Barrett's metaplasia) and multilevel esophageal biopsies (eosinophilia, metaplasia), esophageal motility (aperistalsis, dysmotility), 24-hour ambulatory esophageal pH monitoring (+ if % total time pH < 4 > 5%), and gastric emptying scanning (+ if >10% retention at 4 hours and >70% at 2 hours). Over 3 years, 275 patients (147 men and 128 women) aged 16–89 years underwent complete multimodality testing. Forty percent (n= 109) had nonerosive reflux disease (esophagogastroduodenoscopy [EGD]–, biopsy–, pH+); 19.3% (n= 53) had erosive esophagitis (EGD+); 5.5% (n= 15) Barrett's esophagus (EGD+, metaplasia+); 5.5% (n= 15) eosinophilic esophagitis (biopsy+); 2.5% (n= 7) had achalasia and 5.8% (n= 16) other dysmotility (motility+, pH–); 16% (n= 44) had functional heartburn (EGD–, pH–), and 5.8% (n= 16) had gastroparesis (gastric scan+). Cumulative symptom scores for chest pain, heartburn, regurgitation, and dysphagia were similar among the groups (mean range 1.1–1.35 on a 0–3 scale). Multimodality evaluation changed the diagnosis of GERD in 34.5% of cases and led to or guided alternative therapies in 42%. Overlap diagnoses were frequent: 10/15 (67%) of patients with eosinophilic esophagitis, 12/16 (75%) of patients with gastroparesis, and 11/23 (48%) of patients with achalasia or dysmotility had concomitant pathologic acid reflux by pH studies. Patients with persistent GERD symptoms despite empiric PPI therapy benefit from multimodality evaluation that may change the diagnosis and guide therapy in more than one third of such cases. Because symptoms are not specific and overlap diagnoses are frequent and multifaceted, objective evidence-driven therapies should be considered in such patients.