Objective: A number of case reports describe multiple family members with gastroesophageal reflux disease and Barrett' s esophagus. The wider importance of familial factors in gastroesophageal reflux disease has not been established. Therefore, we have studied the prevalence of reflux symptoms and medication use among relatives of patients with documented gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Methods: A postal questionnaire study of the first degree relatives of six groups of matched patients. The groups comprised patients with 1) no dyspeptic symptoms; 2) reflux symptoms and a normal pH study; 3) reflux symptoms, an abnormal pH study, and a lower esophageal sphincter (LOS) pressure more than 10 mm Hg; 4) reflux symptoms, an abnormal pH study, and a LOS pressure less than 10 mm Hg; 5) Barrett's esophagus; and 6) peptic stricture.
Results: Four hundred eighteen subjects replied (78% response). Infrequent reflux symptoms were equally common in all groups of relatives. Frequent reflux symptoms, however, were more common among relatives of patients with an abnormal pH study and normal (26%, p = 0.007) or low LOS pressure (27%, p = 0.01) or Barrett's esophagus (30%, p = 0.003), compared with relatives of nondyspeptic patients (9%). Frequent reflux symptoms were no more common among relatives of patients with a normal pH study (16%) or peptic stricture (18%). Reflux medication use showed a similar pattern.
Conclusions: Familial clustering of reflux symptoms is seen in relatives of patients with reflux symptoms and increased esophageal acid exposure and in relatives of patients with Barrett's esophagus.