Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors for the treatment of hypersensitive esophagus: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study

Am J Gastroenterol. 2012 Nov;107(11):1662-7. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2011.179. Epub 2011 May 31.


Objectives: Ambulatory 24-h pH-impedance monitoring can be used to assess the relationship of persistent symptoms and reflux episodes, despite proton pump inhibitor (PPI) therapy. Using this technique, we aimed to identify patients with hypersensitive esophagus and evaluate the effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) on their symptoms.

Methods: Patients with normal endoscopy and typical reflux symptoms (heartburn, chest pain, and regurgitation), despite PPI therapy twice daily, underwent 24-h pH-impedance monitoring. Distal esophageal acid exposure (% time pH <4) was measured and reflux episodes were classified into acid or non-acid. A positive symptom index (SI) was declared if at least half of the symptom events were preceded by reflux episodes. Patients with a normal distal esophageal acid exposure time, but with a positive SI were classified as having hypersensitive esophagus and were randomized to receive citalopram 20 mg or placebo once daily for 6 months.

Results: A total of 252 patients (150 females (59.5%); mean age 55 (range 18-75) years) underwent 24-h pH-impedance monitoring. Two hundred and nineteen patients (86.9%) recorded symptoms during the study day, while 105 (47.9%) of those had a positive SI (22 (20.95%) with acid, 5 (4.76%) with both acid and non-acid, and 78 (74.29%) with non-acid reflux). Among those 105 patients, 75 (71.4%) had normal distal esophageal acid exposure time and were randomized to receive citalopram 20 mg (group A, n=39) or placebo (group B, n=36). At the end of the follow-up period, 15 out of the 39 patients of group A (38.5%) and 24 out of the 36 patients of group B (66.7%) continue to report reflux symptoms (P=0.021).

Conclusions: Treatment with SSRIs is effective in a select group of patients with hypersensitive esophagus.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Citalopram / therapeutic use*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Esophageal pH Monitoring
  • Female
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / diagnosis
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / drug therapy*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Placebos
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Placebos
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Citalopram