Mixed reflux of gastric and duodenal juices is more harmful to the esophagus than gastric juice alone. The need for surgical therapy re-emphasized

Ann Surg. 1995 Oct;222(4):525-31; discussion 531-3. doi: 10.1097/00000658-199522240-00010.


Objective: The author's goal was to determine the role of duodenal components in the development of complications of gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Summary and background data: There is a disturbing increase in the prevalence of complications, specifically the development of Barrett's esophagus among patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease. Earlier studies using pH monitoring and aspiration techniques have shown that increased esophageal exposure to fluid with a pH above 7, that is, of potential duodenal origin, may be an important factor in this phenomenon.

Methods: The presence of duodenal content in the esophagus was studied in 53 patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease confirmed by 24-hour pH monitoring. A portable spectrophotometer (Bilitec 2000, Synectics, Inc.) with a fiberoptic probe was used to measure intraluminal bilirubin as a marker for duodenal juice in the esophagus. Normal values for bilirubin monitoring were established for 25 healthy subjects. In a subgroup of 22 patients, a custom-made program was used to correlate simultaneous pH and bilirubin absorbance readings.

Results: Fifty-eight percent of patients were found to have increased esophageal exposure to gastric and duodenal juices. The degree of mucosal damage increased when duodenal juice was refluxed into the esophagus, in that patients with Barrett's metaplasia (n = 27) had a significantly higher prevalence of abnormal esophageal bilirubin exposure than did those with erosive esophagitis (n = 10) or with no injury (n = 16). They also had a greater esophageal bilirubin exposure compared with patients without Barrett's changes, with or without esophagitis. The correlation of pH and bilirubin monitoring showed that the majority (87%) of esophageal bilirubin exposure occurred when the pH of the esophagus was between 4 and 7.

Conclusions: Reflux of duodenal juice in gastroesophageal reflux disease is more common than pH studies alone would suggest. The combined reflux of gastric and duodenal juices causes severe esophageal mucosal damage. The vast majority of duodenal reflux occurs at a pH range of 4 to 7, at which bile acids, the major component of duodenal juice, are capable of damaging the esophageal mucosa.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Barrett Esophagus / etiology
  • Barrett Esophagus / pathology
  • Bilirubin
  • Duodenogastric Reflux / complications*
  • Duodenogastric Reflux / metabolism
  • Duodenogastric Reflux / pathology
  • Duodenogastric Reflux / surgery
  • Esophagitis, Peptic / complications
  • Esophagitis, Peptic / pathology
  • Esophagus / metabolism*
  • Esophagus / pathology*
  • Female
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / complications*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / metabolism
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / pathology
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / surgery
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monitoring, Ambulatory


  • Bilirubin