Pathophysiology of gastroesophageal reflux disease: new understanding in a new era

Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2015 Sep;27(9):1202-13. doi: 10.1111/nmo.12611. Epub 2015 Jun 5.


Background: The prevalence of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) has increased in the last decades and it is now one of the most common chronic diseases. Throughout time our insight in the pathophysiology of GERD has been characterized by remarkable back and forth swings, often prompted by new investigational techniques. Even today, the pathophysiology of GERD is not fully understood but it is now recognized to be a multifactorial disease. Among the factors that have been shown to be involved in the provocation or increase of reflux, are sliding hiatus hernia, low lower esophageal sphincter pressure, transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxation, the acid pocket, obesity, increased distensibility of the esophagogastric junction, prolonged esophageal clearance, and delayed gastric emptying. Moreover, multiple mechanisms influence the perception of GERD symptoms, such as the acidity of the refluxate, its proximal extent, the presence of gas in the refluxate, duodenogastroesophageal reflux, longitudinal muscle contraction, mucosal integrity, and peripheral and central sensitization. Understanding the pathophysiology of GERD is important for future targets for therapy as proton pump inhibitor-refractory GERD symptoms remain a common problem.

Purpose: In this review we provide an overview of the mechanisms leading to reflux and the factors influencing perception, in the light of historical developments. It is clear that further research remains necessary despite the recent advances in the understanding of the pathophysiology of GERD.

Keywords: GERD; hiatus hernia; lower esophageal sphincter; pathophysiology; reflux perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Central Nervous System Sensitization
  • Esophageal Sphincter, Lower / physiopathology
  • Gastric Emptying
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / complications
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / etiology
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / physiopathology*
  • Hernia, Hiatal / complications
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors