Background and aim: Sixty four per cent of people with heartburn believe that it is exacerbated by stress. An alteration in oesophageal motility is one possible mechanism for this apparent change with stress. This study aimed to assess the effect of acute stressors on oesophageal motility in patients with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).
Methods: Sixty patients were studied. Twenty had oesophagitis, 20 had increased oesophageal acid exposure on pH monitoring but no endoscopic oesophagitis, and 20 had neither oesophagitis nor abnormal oesophageal acid exposure. Oesophageal motility was studied in these patients during psychological stress (Stroop test) and physical stress (cold pressor test).
Results: Blood pressure (BP) and heart rate increased in response to both stressors (mean systolic BP increased by > 10 mm Hg, diastolic BP by > 4 mm Hg and heart rate by > 3 beats per minute (p < 0.00001). The amplitude, duration, and velocity of propagation of oesophageal peristaltic contractions were not altered by the stressors. The percentage of simultaneous waves increased in patients with oesophagitis during the cold pressor test (median increase in these patients was 6% (p < 0.05)). This effect was not noted in the patients without oesophagitis.
Conclusion: Acute stressors did not induce significant changes in oesophageal motility in patients with GORD but no oesophagitis. For these patients, dysmotility is not likely to be a cause of oesophageal symptoms which are exacerbated by stress. There was, however, a significant increase in simultaneous waves during cold pressor stress in patients with oesophagitis.