Background: Reflux of duodenal contents into the esophagus of patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease has been suggested by pH and bilirubin monitoring but is rarely directly measured. A portable device has been developed and was used to collect and quantitate material refluxed into the esophagus under ambulatory conditions during a prolonged time period. The objective of this study was to use this device to quantitate the composition and concentration of bile acids refluxed into the esophagus of patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Methods: Esophageal aspiration was performed on 43 normal subjects and 37 patients with reflux disease during a 17-hour period. Aspiration was performed through a modified 16F Salem sump tube, positioned 5 cm above the lower esophageal sphincter and connected to a portable, battery powered pump that aspirated continuously at 100 mm Hg pressure. Validation studies showed that minimal amounts of saliva and swallowed liquids were aspirated and that gastric pressure was not altered. Postprandial, upright, and supine collections were performed. Total bile acids were assayed by a standard enzymatic assay; specific conjugated bile acids were analyzed by high-performance liquid chromatography.
Results: There was no difference in the total aspiration volume between normal volunteers and patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease, although patients tended to have a higher volume in the supine and postprandial periods. Bile acids could be detected in 58% of normal subjects and 86% of patients (p < 0.003). The mean concentration of bile salt exposure (micromole per liter) was higher in patients during the postprandial and supine periods. The mean bile acid reflux rate (micromole per hour) during all three aspiration periods was significantly higher in patients. On a molar basis the composition of the bile acids was 60% glycocholic acid, 16% glycodeoxycholic acid, and 15% glycochenodeoxycholic acid. Taurocholic, taurodeoxycholic, taurochenodeoxycholic, and glycolithocholic acid constituted the remaining 10%.
Conclusions: Patients with reflux disease have an increased concentration of bile acids in their esophageal aspirates. Most of the exposure occurs during the postprandial and supine periods. A variety of bile acids were detected, most of which were in their glycine conjugated form.