A link between gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and psychological distress has been suggested; psychological factors may modulate the characteristics of symptoms. Besides, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) frequently coexists with GERD so it may be hypothesized that psychological distress in GERD might be an epiphenomenon of IBS comorbidity.
Aims: Evaluate the association of psychological distress with GERD, the influence of psychological factors on symptoms, whether psychological distress is explained by a subset of GER patients, and if coexistence with IBS would be a surrogate marker.
Methods: We performed a prospective case-control study. Cases were patients diagnosed with GERD reporting heartburn at least 2 days per week as the main complaint. Controls were matched healthy subjects without or occasional symptoms. All individuals completed a set of validated questionnaires to evaluate GERD and IBS symptoms and psychological distress (SCL-90R).
Results: Ninety-two patients and 92 controls were included. Fifty-seven patients and six controls fulfilled Rome II criteria for IBS. Body mass index (BMI), somatization, and IBS were independently related to GERD. Patients with and without IBS were not different in any measure of psychological distress. Characteristics of symptoms did not correlate to psychological measures. Cluster analysis isolated a cluster of nondistressed from distressed subjects. A higher proportion of GERD patients than controls were classified as distressed (29.7% versus 7.7%). No variable (including IBS) distinguished nondistressed from distressed GERD patients, except for sex.
Conclusions: Nearly one-third of GERD patients attending a gastroenterologist office are psychological distressed; they cannot be identified by features of symptoms or IBS comorbidity so a specific anamnesis under the scope of a biopsychosocial model is warranted.