Background: Bowel symptoms have been associated with non-erosive reflux disease (NERD). However, their role in functional heartburn (FH) has not been established.
Aims: To characterize bowel symptoms in FH and NERD patients, and investigate their role as predictors of severity of reflux symptoms.
Methods: A prospective study of patients with normal upper endoscopy undergoing a 24-h oesophageal pH monitoring for the evaluation of reflux symptoms. Patients with oesophageal acid exposure <3.1% and a symptom index <50% were classified as FH (n = 60), while those with oesophageal acid exposure >4% were defined as NERD (n = 160). Symptom severity was scored on validated scales.
Results: In FH, a female predominance was noted (P < 0.001). Reflux symptoms were scored higher in NERD patients (P < 0.001) while bowel symptoms were similarly scored in the two groups. In both groups, severity of reflux symptoms was independently associated with a composite score on the bowel scales (P < 0.001) and was not predicted by oesophageal acid exposure. In FH, reflux symptom severity was inversely related to age (P = 0.03), while in NERD, the opposite was true (P = 0.01).
Conclusions: In both FH and NERD, bowel symptoms were the strongest predictors of reflux symptoms severity. A female preponderance, and an opposite relationship between reflux symptom severity and age, indicate that FH and NERD may be distinct entities.