Approximately 30% of U.S. adults experience troublesome reflux symptoms of heartburn, regurgitation and noncardiac chest pain. Because the mechanisms driving symptoms vary across patients, phenotyping patients via a step-wise diagnostic framework effectively guides personalized management in GERD.
For instance, PPI trials are appropriate when esophageal symptoms are present, whereas up-front reflux monitoring rather than empiric PPI trials are recommended for evaluation of isolated extra-esophageal symptoms. All patients undergoing evaluation for GERD should receive counseling on weight management and lifestyle modifications as well as the brain-gut axis relationship. In the common scenario of inadequate symptom response to PPIs, upper GI endoscopy is recommended to assess for erosive reflux disease (which confirms a diagnosis of GERD) as well as the anti-reflux barrier integrity. For instance, the presence of a large hiatal hernia and/or grade III/IV gastro-esophageal flap valve may point to mechanical gastro-esophageal reflux as a driver of symptoms and lower the threshold for surgical referral. In the absence of erosive reflux disease the next recommended step is ambulatory reflux monitoring off PPI therapy, either as prolonged wireless telemetry (which can be done concurrently with index endoscopy as long as PPI was discontinued > 7 days) or 24-hour transnasal pH-impedance catheter-based testing. Studies suggest that 96-hour monitoring is optimal for diagnostic accuracy and to guide therapeutic strategies.
Patients without evidence of GERD on endoscopy or ambulatory reflux monitoring likely have a functional esophageal disorder for which therapy hinges on pharmacologic neuromodulation or behavioral interventions as well as PPI cessation.
Alternatively, management for GERD (erosive or nonerosive) aims to optimize lifestyle, PPI therapy and the individualized use of adjunctive therapy, which include H2-receptor antagonists, alginate antacids, GABA agonists, neuromodulation and/or behavioral interventions. Surgical or endoscopic antireflux interventions are also an option for refractory GERD. Prior to intervention, achalasia must be excluded (typically with esophageal manometry), and confirmation of PPI refractory GERD on pH-impedance monitoring on PPI is of value, particularly when the phenotype is unclear. Again, the choice of antireflux intervention (e.g., laparoscopic fundoplication, magnetic sphincter augmentation, transoral incisionless fundoplication, Roux-en-Y gastric bypass) should be individualized to the patient’s anatomy, physiology, and clinical profile.
A multitude of treatment options are available to manage GERD, including behavioral interventions, lifestyle modifications, pharmacotherapy, and endoscopic/surgical interventions. However, not every treatment strategy is appropriate for every patient. Data gathered from the step-down diagnostic approach, which starts with clinical presentation, then endoscopy, then reflux monitoring, then esophageal physiologic testing, helps determine the GERD phenotype and effectively guide therapy.
Dr. Yadlapati is associate professor of clinical medicine, and medical director, UCSD Center for Esophageal Diseases; director, GI Motility Lab, division of gastroenterology, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, Calif. She disclosed ties with Medtronic, Phathom Pharmaceuticals, StatLinkMD, Medscape, Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, and RJS Mediagnostix. These remarks were made during one of the AGA Postgraduate Course sessions held at DDW 2022.