When patients lack typical symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and have extraesophageal symptoms, ENT, allergy, and pulmonary work-ups are “essential and often should be performed initially,” experts note in an American Gastroenterological Association clinical practice update.
Extraesophageal symptoms often are unrelated to GERD or are multifactorial, wrote Michael F. Vaezi, MD, PhD, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., and his associates in. Gastroenterologists often are asked to look for reflux as the cause of extraesophageal symptoms before other etiologies have been ruled out.
Proposed extraesophageal manifestations of GERD range from chronic throat clearing and dysphonia to otitis, pulmonary fibrosis, laryngeal cancer, and even lung transplant rejection. Stronger evidence links GERD with symptoms of asthma, cough, and hoarseness, the experts note. “When less stringent criteria are used, the attributions are broader and could include sore throat, sinusitis, ear pain, and pulmonary fibrosis.”
When asked to assess whether GERD is causing extraesophageal symptoms, consider the “constellation” of patient presentation, test results, and treatment response, according to the clinical practice update. No diagnostic tests “unequivocally link any suspected extraesophageal symptom to GERD.” For patients who have both extraesophageal symptoms and typical symptoms of GERD, the authors suggest an evaluator regimen of 6-8 weeks of empiric, aggressive (twice-daily) proton pump inhibitor (PPI) therapy. If aggressive acid suppression therapy appears to improve extraesophageal symptoms, patients should be titrated to the lowest effective treatment dose.If symptoms persist despite an aggressive trial of a PPI, and patients have a body mass index under 25, and a seemingly low probability of GERD, then the experts recommend pH testing “off” therapy and seeking other etiologies for extraesophageal symptoms. If symptoms persist and a patients’ BMI exceeds 25 with a high suspicion of GERD, they recommend evaluations for concomitant asthma or lung disease. If these work-ups are positive, they recommend multichannel intraluminal impedance testing or pH monitoring on treatment.
The clinical practice update strongly discourages surgical treatment of extraesophageal GERD symptoms except in specific populations, such as when patients have objective signs of treatment-refractory GERD and have not responded to comprehensive therapy for other possible causes of extraesophageal symptoms. Recent data suggest that surgery can benefit patients with confirmed structural defects, such as hiatal hernia, which are causing symptomatic, volume-based regurgitation, the experts note. Ideally, these patients should first undergo pH and impedance monitoring to objectively measure the effects of reflux. Additionally, surgical fundoplication “might be beneficial” for patients whose extraesophageal symptoms clearly have responded to PPI therapy but who refuse long-term PPI therapy or who develop unacceptable side effects.
The practice update also extensively discusses the role of testing to evaluate the role of GERD in extraesophageal symptoms. Barium esophagography is insensitive for GERD and is useful only for evaluating dysphagia and the size and type of a hiatal hernia, the experts note. Abnormal laryngoscopy or pharyngoscopic findings are more useful but should not be the “initial driving force” behind a GERD diagnosis and do not necessarily link GERD to extraesophageal symptoms. Likewise, esophagogastroduodenoscopy can identify esophagitis, which signifies GERD but does not establish it as etiologic.
Positive ambulatory pH or impedance monitoring or pharyngeal pH tests also do not definitively link reflux to suspected extraesophageal symptoms, the experts note. They suggest considering “on” therapy monitoring to evaluate treatment efficacy and to time reflux events relative to symptoms in patients with esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, or a large hiatal hernia. Conversely, they recommend considering “off” treatment testing to rule out GERD in patients who have no history of confirmed or suspected reflux and who have not responded to PPI therapy.
Novel tests, such as salivary pepsin and mucosal impedance, have “no clear role in establishing GERD as the cause of extraesophageal symptoms,” the experts emphasize. Clinician scientists also debate the exact pathophysiology of extraesophageal GERD sequelae. While chronic exposure to gastric refluxate clearly can harm proximal structures such as the pharynx, larynx, and bronchial tree, it remains unclear how much acid is necessary to cause injury and whether bile, pepsin, or neurogenic stimulation play a role.
Dr. Vaezi reported having no conflicts of interest. Senior author Frank Zerbib, MD, PhD, reported receiving devices for research purposes from Medtronic and Sandhill Scientific.