Objectives: To critically review and summarize the literature on cough and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and to make evidence-based recommendations regarding the diagnosis and treatment of chronic cough due to GERD.
Design/methodology: Ovid MEDLINE literature review (through March 2004) for all studies published in the English language and selected articles published in other languages such as French since 1963 using the medical subject heading terms "cough," "gastroesophageal reflux," and "gastroesophageal reflux disease."
Results: GERD, singly or in combination with other conditions, is one of the most common causes of chronic cough. In patients with normal chest radiographic findings, GERD most likely causes cough by stimulation of an esophageal-bronchial reflex. When GERD causes cough, there may be no GI symptoms up to 75% of the time. While 24-h esophageal pH monitoring is the most sensitive and specific test in linking GERD and cough in a cause-effect relationship, it has its limitations. In addition, there is no general agreement on how to best interpret the test, and it cannot detect non-acid reflux events. Therefore, when patients fit the clinical profile that has a high likelihood of predicting that GERD is the cause of cough, antireflux medical therapy should be empirically instituted. While some patients improve with minimal medical therapy, others require more intensive regimens. When empiric treatment fails, it cannot be assumed that GERD has been ruled out as a cause of chronic cough. Rather, an objective investigation for GERD is then recommended because the empiric therapy may not have been intensive enough or medical therapy may have failed. Surgery may be efficacious when intensive medical therapy has failed in selected patients who have undergone an extensive objective GERD evaluation.
Conclusions: Accurately diagnosing and successfully treating chronic cough due to GERD can be a major challenge.