Background: Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is a frequently occurring disease that may be considered a public health issue, particularly in developed countries. The specificity of heartburn for the diagnosis of GORD is good. Our aim was to define the prevalence of heartburn in Belgium, characterizing both its impact on everyday life and the ensuing use of medical resources.
Methods: Two thousand people living in Belgium, selected randomly after stratification, were interviewed face to face. The main question in the questionnaire used in this interview concerned the presence over the previous 12 months of a burning sensation in the epigastric and/or retrosternal region. This was followed by 21 secondary questions on the characteristics of the population studied, the impact of heartburn on everyday life, and the medical resources used.
Results: Twenty-eight per cent of the population interviewed reported heartburn. This symptom was present at least once a week in 42% of sufferers. Heartburn was more frequent in women than men (P < 0.05) and was not distributed uniformly throughout the various regions of the country (P < 0.05). Seventy-seven per cent of the people with heartburn found that it had a significantly negative impact on their daily lives (in 27%, this effect was strong). Heartburn associated with a substantial negative impact on daily life was characterized by a higher frequency of symptoms (P < 0.0001), a longer duration of the problem (P = 0.006), and the presence of pain (P < 0.0001) and anxiety (P < 0.0001). Fifty-six per cent of individuals with heartburn had already sought medical advice, 45% had undergone an upper-gastrointestinal tract endoscopy, and 59% were taking medications. Among patients complaining that heartburn had a substantial negative effect on their everyday lives, 21.6% had not sought medical advice and 22.2% did not take any medication.
Conclusion: Heartburn is very frequent in Belgium and is associated with a considerable negative impact on everyday life. It also generates a significant use of medical resources. However, among the patients complaining of a substantial negative effect on their daily lives, one-fifth (which would represent 1.5% of the Belgian population) seemed to lack appropriate care.