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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Marco G Patti, MD; Chief Editor: BS Anand, MD  more...
 
Updated: May 02, 2016
 

History

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is associated with a set of typical (esophageal) symptoms, including heartburn, regurgitation, and dysphagia. (However, a diagnosis of GERD based on the presence of typical symptoms is correct in only 70% of patients.) In addition to these typical symptoms, abnormal reflux can cause atypical (extraesophageal) symptoms, such as coughing, chest pain, and wheezing.

The American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) published updated guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of GERD in 2005. According to the guidelines, for patients with symptoms and history consistent with uncomplicated GERD, the diagnosis of GERD may be assumed and empirical therapy begun. Patients who show signs of GERD complications or other illness or who do not respond to therapy should be considered for further diagnostic testing.[7]

A history of nausea, vomiting, or regurgitation should alert the physician to evaluate for delayed gastric emptying.

Patients with GERD may also experience significant complications associated with the disease, such as esophagitis, stricture, and Barrett esophagus. Approximately 50% of patients with gastric reflux develop esophagitis.

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Physical Examination

Typical esophageal symptoms

Heartburn is the most common typical symptom of GERD. It is felt as a retrosternal sensation of burning or discomfort that usually occurs after eating or when lying supine or bending over.

Regurgitation is an effortless return of gastric and/or esophageal contents into the pharynx. Regurgitation can induce respiratory complications if gastric contents spill into the tracheobronchial tree.

Dysphagia occurs in approximately one third of patients. Patients with dysphagia experience a sensation that food is stuck, particularly in the retrosternal area. Dysphagia can be an advanced symptom and can be due to a primary underlying esophageal motility disorder, a motility disorder secondary to esophagitis, or stricture formation.

Atypical extraesophageal symptoms

Coughing and/or wheezing are respiratory symptoms resulting from the aspiration of gastric contents into the tracheobronchial tree or from the vagal reflex arc producing bronchoconstriction. Approximately 50% of patients who have GERD-induced asthma do not experience heartburn.

Hoarseness results from irritation of the vocal cords by gastric refluxate and is often experienced by patients in the morning.

Reflux is the most common cause of noncardiac chest pain, accounting for approximately 50% of cases. Patients can present to the emergency department with pain resembling a myocardial infarction. Reflux should be ruled out (using esophageal manometry and 24-hour pH testing if necessary) once a cardiac cause for the chest pain has been excluded. Alternatively, a therapeutic trial of a high-dose proton pump inhibitor (PPI) can be tried.

Additional atypical symptoms from abnormal reflux include damage to the lungs (eg, pneumonia, asthma, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis), vocal cords (eg, laryngitis, cancer), ear (eg, otitis media), and teeth (eg, enamel decay).

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Marco G Patti, MD Professor of Surgery, Director, Center for Esophageal Diseases, University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine

Marco G Patti, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Surgical Association, American College of Surgeons, American Gastroenterological Association, American Medical Association, Association for Academic Surgery, Pan-Pacific Surgical Association, Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract, Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons, Southwestern Surgical Congress, Western Surgical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

BS Anand, MD Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Baylor College of Medicine

BS Anand, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, American College of Gastroenterology, American Gastroenterological Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Julian Katz, MD Clinical Professor of Medicine, Drexel University College of Medicine

Julian Katz, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, American Gastroenterological Association, American Geriatrics Society, American Medical Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics, American Trauma Society, Association of American Medical Colleges, Physicians for Social Responsibility

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgements

Piero Marco Fisichella, MD Assistant Professor of Surgery, Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University; Director, Esophageal Motility Center, Loyola University Medical Center.

Piero Marco Fisichella is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, Association for Academic Surgery, Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract, and Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Fernando AM Herbella, MD, PhD, TCBC Affiliate Professor, Attending Surgeon in Gastrointestinal Surgery, Esophagus and Stomach Division, Department of Surgery, Federal University of Sao Paulo, Brazil; Private Practice; Medical Examiner, Sao Paulo's Medical Examiner's Office Headquarters, Brazil

Fernando AM Herbella, MD, PhD, TCBC is a member of the following medical societies: Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

John Gunn Lee, MD Director of Pancreaticobiliary Service, Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, University of California at Irvine School of Medicine

John Gunn Lee, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, American Gastroenterological Association, and American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Thomas F Murphy, MD Chief of Abdominal Imaging Section, Department of Radiology, Tripler Army Medical Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

Manish K Varma, MD Chief of Interventional Radiology, Department of Radiology, Tripler Army Medical Center

Manish K Varma, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Radiology, American Roentgen Ray Society, and Radiological Society of North America

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Noel Williams, MD Professor Emeritus, Department of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Noel Williams, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Relationship of the phrenoesophageal ligament to the diaphragm and esophagus.
Arterial blood supply and lymphatic drainage of the esophagus.
Peptic esophagitis.
Reflux esophagitis is demonstrated on barium esophagram.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)/Barrett esophagus/adenocarcinoma sequence.
Endoscopy demonstrating intraluminal esophageal cancer.
The image is a representation of concomitant intraesophageal pH and esophageal electrical impedance measurements. The vertical solid arrow indicates commencement of a nonacid gastroesophageal reflux (GER) episode (diagonal arrow). The vertical dashed arrow indicates the onset of a normal swallow.
Nissen fundoplication.
Laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication.
Hiatal hernia.
 
 
 
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