Background: The ability of gastroesophageal reflux disease to provoke asthma is controversial. Recent reports have suggested that reflux to the proximal esophagus may be especially likely to aggravate asthma, but the prevalence of proximal reflux in children and adolescents is poorly documented. It is also unclear how sensitive and specific the commonly used tests of reflux, barium swallow, and scintiscan are compared with pH probe studies in young patients. There is limited information on the effectiveness of the combination of H2 blockers and prokinetic agents in controlling reflux in children.
Objective: There were three objectives in this study: (1) to determine the prevalence of both proximal and distal gastroesophageal reflux in asthmatic children and adolescents; (2) to determine the sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values of barium swallow and scintiscan studies; and (3) to determine the effectiveness of standard antireflux pharmacotherapy.
Methods: A 24-hour, 2-channel pH probe study was carried out in 79 asthmatic children aged 2 to 17 years. The prevalence of abnormal proximal and distal gastroesophageal reflux was calculated from the findings. In 63 of these patients, barium swallow and Technetium99 scintiscan were carried out and the findings used to calculate the sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive value of these studies relative to pH probe. In 11 subjects a follow-up, 24-hour pH probe was carried out after at least 3 weeks of therapy with an H2 blocker and prokinetic agent to determine the efficacy of therapy.
Results: There was abnormal proximal esophageal reflux in 64.5% of subjects and abnormal distal reflux in 73.4%. The sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values of barium swallow were 46.1%, 83.3%, 82% and 51%, respectively. Those of scintiscan were 15%, 72.7%, 50% and 32%, respectively. Of 11 subjects studied by repeat pH probe, 10 had persistent abnormal reflux.
Conclusion: Abnormal reflux into the proximal esophagus occurs in the majority of asthmatic children with difficult-to-control disease. The barium swallow and scintiscan compare poorly with pH probe in diagnosing reflux. Treatment of reflux with recommended does of H2 blockers and prokinetic agents has a high failure rate, and follow-up studies are essential.