Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is a common condition, where acid from the stomach leaks up into the oesophagus (gullet). The liquid from the stomach that refluxes into the esophagus damages the cells lining the esophagus. The body responds in the way that it usually responds to damage, which is with inflammation (esophagitis). The purpose of inflammation is to neutralize the damaging agent and begin the process of healing. If the damage goes deeply into the esophagus, an ulcer forms. An ulcer is simply a break in the lining of the esophagus that occurs in an area of inflammation. Ulcers and the additional inflammation they provoke may erode into the esophageal blood vessels and give rise to bleeding into the esophagus.
Moreover, as with any treatment, there is perhaps a 20% placebo effect, which means that 20% of patients will respond to a placebo (inactive) pill or, indeed, to any treatment. This means that 20% of patients who have causes of their symptoms other than GERD (or ulcers) will have a decrease in their symptoms after receiving the treatment for GERD. Thus, on the basis of their response to treatment (the therapeutic trial), these patients then will continue to be treated for GERD, even though they do not have GERD. What’s more, the true cause of their symptoms will not be pursued.
Some physicians – primarily surgeons – recommend that all patients with Barrett’s esophagus should have surgery. This recommendation is based on the belief that surgery is more effective than endoscopic surveillance or ablation of the abnormal tissue followed by treatment with acid-suppressing drugs in her explanation preventing both the reflux and the cancerous changes in the esophagus. There are no studies, however, demonstrating the superiority of surgery over drugs or ablation for the treatment of GERD and its complications. Moreover, the effectiveness of drug treatment can be monitored with 24 hour pH testing.
There are problems with using pH testing for diagnosing GERD. Despite the fact that normal individuals and patients with GERD can be separated fairly well on the basis of pH studies, the separation is not perfect. Therefore, some patients with GERD will have normal amounts of acid reflux and some patients without GERD will have abnormal amounts of acid reflux. It requires something other than the pH test to confirm the presence of GERD, for example, typical symptoms, response to treatment, or the presence of complications of GERD. GERD also may be confidently diagnosed when episodes of heartburn correlate with acid reflux as shown by acid testing.