Objective: In short term studies, asthma symptoms and pulmonary function have been reported to improve during and after medical treatment or surgical correction of gastroesophageal reflux (GER). In this study, we aimed to determine whether prolonged treatment of GER altered the long term natural history of asthma in asthmatics with GER.
Methods: A total of 62 patients with both GER and asthma entered a randomized study of antireflux treatments for at least 2 yr: 24 controls (antacids as needed); 22 medical (ranitidine 150 mg t.i.d.); and 16 surgical (Nissen fundoplication). Asthma was defined as a previous diagnosis of asthma with discrete attacks of wheezing and 20% reversibility in airway disease. GER was defined as an abnormal ambulatory 24-h esophageal pH test and macroscopic or microscopic evidence of GER disease. Overall clinical status, asthma symptom scores, and pulmonary medication requirements were recorded monthly. Peak expiratory flow rates were recorded up to seven times per day for 1 wk of each month throughout the years. Pulmonary function, esophageal manometry, and endoscopy with biopsy were repeated yearly.
Results: The 62 patients were followed for up to 19.1 yr. In the surgical group, but not in the medical or control groups, there was an immediate and sustained reduction in acute nocturnal exacerbations of wheezing, coughing, and dyspnea. By the end of 2 yr, improvement, marked improvement, or cure in the overall asthma status occurred in 74.9% of the surgical group, 9.1% of the medical group and 4.2% of the control group, whereas the overall status worsened in 47.8% of the control group, 36.4% of the medical group, and 12.5% of the surgical group (p < 0.001, surgical vs medical and control). The mean asthma symptom score of the surgical group improved 43%, compared with less than 10% in the medical and control groups (p = 0.0009). As determined by changes in peak expiratory flow rates, there was no statistically significant difference in pulmonary function during the 2-yr period or during regularly scheduled follow-up. There was no difference in medication requirements among the groups. There was no difference between the groups in overall survival.
Conclusion: In patients with both GER and asthma, antireflux surgery (but not medical therapy with ranitidine 150 mg t.i.d.) has minimal effect on pulmonary function, pulmonary medication requirements, or survival, but significantly improves asthma symptoms and overall clinical status.