Research conducted by Baylor Scott and White Health found that the 66 percent of patients using proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for persistent heartburn have symptoms that are not caused by acid production, as previously assumed. PPIs reduce stomach acid levels and are considered optimal treatment for gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. However, even after taking PPIs consistently, approximately 30%-40% of patients complain that their heartburn or GERD symptoms still persist.
“There is a huge misconception among patients and physicians that heartburn means GERD” says Dr. Stuart Spechler, Chief of Gastroenterology at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.
The study evaluated 366 patients for GERD and only 78 could be positively identified as having GERD-related heartburn. Those patients underwent an anti-reflux surgical treatment that turned out to be significantly more effective than PPIs in addressing their heartburn. Though, before patients consider surgery as a solution to severe heartburn, they must undergo an extensive evaluation that includes endoscopy and tests for esophageal muscle disorders. “These tests are necessary before resorting to surgery because if the heartburn isn’t caused by GERD, then the surgery won’t help and can only make things worse,” Spechler added via release.
The research included an extensive series of tests designed to look for non-GERD causes of heartburn and found that various burning sensations in the chest are practically indistinguishable from actual GERD. Difficulty in identifying proper causes for heartburn often leads to physicians prescribing incorrect treatment for their patients.
“Physicians considering recommending an operation to treat GERD should be sure that their patients really have GERD causing their heartburn, and that heartburn isn’t being caused by something completely different,” said Spechler, via release.