Background: Recent reports suggest that patients with non-erosive reflux disease (NERD) treated with anti-reflux medications show lower symptom improvement rates than patients with erosive oesophagitis treated with the same medications.
Aim: To determine the acid reflux and symptom patterns of patients with NERD in comparison with those with erosive oesophagitis and Barrett's oesophagus, and to identify different NERD subgroups.
Methods: One hundred and forty-nine consecutive patients seen for classic heartburn symptoms were evaluated for the study. Oesophageal mucosal injury was assessed by upper endoscopy and classified by Hetzel-Dent criteria. Patients with Hetzel-Dent grades 0-1 were considered to have NERD. The extent of oesophageal acid exposure was determined by ambulatory 24-h oesophageal pH monitoring.
Results: Seventy-one patients were found to have NERD, 36 erosive oesophagitis and 42 Barrett's oesophagus. Compared with patients with erosive oesophagitis (75%) and Barrett's oesophagus (93%), those with NERD (45%) were significantly less likely to have an abnormal pH test (P = 0.0001). Patients with Barrett's oesophagus had the highest mean number of acid reflux events (210 +/- 17.7), compared with those with erosive oesophagitis (139.7 +/- 15.2) and NERD (95.3 +/- 9.4) (P = 0.0001); however, the rate of perceived acid reflux events was similar and very low in all groups (NERD, 3.6%; erosive oesophagitis, 2.9%; Barrett's oesophagus, 2.17%). NERD-positive patients (abnormal pH test) had a similar extent of oesophageal acid exposure to those with erosive oesophagitis. NERD-positive patients were more likely to demonstrate a symptom index greater than 75% than NERD-negative patients (normal pH test) (61.9% vs. 10.5%; P = 0.0001). In the NERD-negative group, those with a negative symptom index reported having heartburn at pH < 4 only 12.7% of the time, compared with 70.7% of the time in those with a positive symptom index, despite a similar mean number of heartburn episodes.
Conclusions: Patients with NERD commonly demonstrate a negative pH test. Acid reflux characteristics and symptom patterns suggest a heterogeneous group of patients.