Redefining gastroesophageal reflux (GER)

Surg Endosc. 2003 Sep;17(9):1380-5. doi: 10.1007/s00464-002-8859-x. Epub 2003 Jun 17.


Background: The detection of gastroesophageal reflux (GER) has to date been limited to acid exposure observed on 24-h pH monitoring. It is clear, however that nonacid reflux can be a significant clinical problem. Recently, as impedance technology with the capacity to detect all types of reflux (acid, nonacid, liquid, mixed, and air) has been developed.

Methods: Seventeen asymptomatic healthy volunteers underwent combined 24-h pH and impedance testing. In all patients, pH was measured at 5 cm above the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), and simultaneous impedance changes were recorded at 3, 5, 7, 9, 15, and 17 cm above the LES. Refluxes were classified as acid (drop in pH <4 for >5 sec), Nonacid, short acid, or nonacid delta based on chemical properties; they were further classified as liquid, mixed, or gas based on the physical refluxate detected by impedance changes. The height of the reflux entering the esophagus was classified as distal (<5 cm), intermediate (5-9 cm), or proximal (9-17 cm).

Results: A total of 868 reflux events were characterized. Fifty-nine percent of them were not conventional acid reflux and could only be detected by impedance changes. Less than 2% of the events that were detected by a fall in pH to <4 were not detected by impedance changes. Pure liquid reflux was seen in 35.4%, a mixed pattern in 36.3%, and a gas reflux in 26.7%. Liquid was confined to the distal esophagus in 30%; it reached the midesophagus in 58% and the proximal esophagus in 11%.

Conclusions: Over half of GER events are not detected by pH studies. Liquid reflux reaches the mid and proximal esophagus 69% of the time and gas nearly always does (92%). The additional information provided by impedance technology is likely to have a major impact on the understanding and clinical management of patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electric Impedance*
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Gases
  • Gastric Acidity Determination*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / diagnosis*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / epidemiology
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Contents
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Reference Values
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Gases