Background & aims: White people in the United States are several-fold more affected by esophageal adenocarcinoma than black people. It remains unknown whether this racial discrepancy reflects a higher prevalence of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms or a higher degree of esophageal damage.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey followed by endoscopy was performed among employees at a VA medical center. The association between race and GERD symptoms and erosive esophagitis was analyzed in logistic regression analyses controlling for demographic, clinical, and histologic variables.
Results: A total of 496 of 915 people (54%) returned interpretable questionnaires, and endoscopy was performed in 215 participants. The mean age was 45 years, and 336 (68%) were women. Racial distribution was 43% black, 34% white, and 23% other races. Heartburn occurring at least weekly was reported in 27%, 23%, and 24% of these racial groups, respectively. The age-adjusted prevalence of heartburn or regurgitation was not significantly different among the groups. Erosive esophagitis was found in 50 of 215 participants (23%); 31 of these cases were mild. Only one person had Barrett's esophagus (0.4%). For weekly heartburn or regurgitation, black participants had significantly less frequent erosive esophagitis than white participants (24% vs. 50%; P = 0.03). With multiple adjustments, black participants had a persistently lower risk of esophagitis (adjusted odds ratio, 0.22-0.46; P < 0.001).
Conclusions: White and black people in the United States have a similarly high prevalence of GERD symptoms. However, black people have a lower prevalence of esophagitis for the same frequency of GERD symptoms. Barrett's esophagus was rare in this study, even among those with frequent symptoms.