Reflux and sex: what drives testing, what drives treatment?

Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012 Mar;24(3):233-47. doi: 10.1097/MEG.0b013e32834f6baa.


Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) affects ∼10-20% of American adults. Although symptoms are equally common in men and women, we hypothesized that sex influences diagnostic and therapeutic approaches in patients with GER. PubMed database between 1997 and October 2011 was searched for English language studies describing symptoms, consultative visits, endoscopic findings, use and results of ambulatory pH study, and surgical therapy for GER. Using data from Nationwide Inpatient Sample, Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, we determined the sex distribution for admissions and reflux surgery between 1997 and 2008. Studies on symptoms or consultative visits did not show sex-specific differences. Even though women are less likely to have esophagitis or Barrett's esophagus, endoscopic studies enrolled as many women as men, and women were more likely to undergo ambulatory pH studies with a female predominance in studies from the US. Surgical GER treatment is more commonly performed in men. However, studies from the US showed an equal sex distribution, with Nationwide Inpatient Sample data demonstrating an increase in women who accounted for 63% of the annual fundoplications in 2008. Despite less common or severe mucosal disease, women are more likely to undergo invasive diagnostic testing. In the US, women are also more likely to undergo antireflux surgery. These results suggest that healthcare-seeking behavior and socioeconomic factors rather than the biology of disease influence the clinical approaches to reflux disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Barrett Esophagus / epidemiology
  • Esophageal pH Monitoring / statistics & numerical data
  • Esophagitis, Peptic / epidemiology
  • Esophagoscopy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Fundoplication / statistics & numerical data
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / diagnosis*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / epidemiology
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / surgery*
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sex Factors
  • United States / epidemiology