Guidelines on Functional Heartburn

How to diagnose and manage adults with functional heartburn: C Hachem, NJ Shaheen Am J Gastroenterol 2016; 111-53-61 (thanks to Ben Gold for reference).

Functional heartburn is defined as chronic symptoms of heartburn without objective evidence of reflux.  The authors algorithm (Figure 2) recommends endoscopy for patients who have had heartburn that is unresponsive to a 2 month trial of PPI.  If endoscopy is normal, pH-impedance study is recommended.  If abnormal, impedance indicates nonerosive reflux disease.  If normal and there is symptom correlation, this suggests esophageal hypersensitivity.  If normal and there is no symptom correlation, this suggests functional heartburn (though authors note a role for motility testing in this circumstance in their algorithm).

Their conclusions:

  • Functional heartburn (FH) responds poorly to PPI therapy
  • The pathophysiology of FH is unknown but it is often associated with visceral hypersensitivity
  • Modulation of pain perception and alternative therapies (melatonin, TCA, SSRI, biofeedback, acupuncture, or hypnotherapy) may be helpful

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Modest Evidence That Antidepressants Improve Functional Esophageal Disorders

A systematic review (Weijenborg PW, et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2015; 13: 251-9) identified 15 randomized, placebo-controlled trials as well as 1 conference abstract and 2 case reports that provided evidence that antidepressants can be helpful for esophageal pain.

Antidepressants that were included included tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Table 1 list the studies; most of these drugs were dosed at low doses (eg. TCAs typically 25-50 mg).

Key findings:

  • Esophageal pain thresholds increased by 7% to 37% after antidepressant therapy
  • Functional chest pain improved by 18% to 67%
  • Heartburn improved over a range of 23% to 61%

Take-home message (from authors): “The results of the trials included in this systematic review provide modest evidence that both TCAs and SSRIs modulate esophageal sensation and reduce functional chest pain.”

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PPIs and Associated Heart Risk

A NY Times review PPIs and Heart Attacks of PLos One study showing an association between PPI usage (eg. prilosec, prevacid, and nexium) and heart attacks -this study does not prove any causality, but is likely to spark some questions. Excerpt:

The widely used drugs known as proton pump inhibitors, or P.P.I.’s — gastric reflux preventives like Prilosec and Prevacid — may increase the risk for heart attack, according to analysis of data involving almost three million people.

A significant limitation of the study, in PLOS One, is that P.P.I. usage may be a marker of a sicker patient population, more subject to heart disease in any case.

Here’s NPR’s take on the same study: Data Dive -Possible Link Between PPIs and Heart Attacks

“The increase in risk is about 16 to 20 percent, depending on the particular drug involved”…

Someone with a low risk of heart attack doesn’t have much to worry about. “If your risk of a cardiovascular event or a heart attack is one in a million, now it is 1.2 in a million,” [Nigham] Shah [one of the authors] says.

“The problem is, it’s very easy to do studies of this sort that lead to conclusions that can be misleading,” says Dr. David Juurlink, a drug-safety researcher at the University of Toronto…

“Having a bad diet, drinking too much alcohol, smoking and all sorts of other things … might lead people to be on a PPI,” Juurlink says. One would expect those people to be at higher risk of heart attack, which leads Juurlink to think the medicine is likely not to blame.”


Also noted:

Regurgitation harder to treat than heartburn, especially for NERDs

While all pediatric gastroenterologists know that the title of this blog entry is right, it is helpful to have data.

A recent study (Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2012; 10: 612-19) used a reflux questionnaire to evaluate responsiveness of regurgitation from 2 randomized controlled trials.  The trials compared a newer acid blocker (AZD0865 dosed at 25-75 mg/day)) to esomeprazole (20-40 mg/day).  Patients had either non-erosive reflux disease (NERD , n=1460),  or reflux esophagitis, (RE, n=1314).  Inclusion criteria included the presence of substernal burning for ≥4 days/week.

Regurgitation-taste (RT), defined as an “acid taste in the mouth,” or regurgitation-movement (RM), defined as an “unpleasant movement of material upwards from the stomach” were analyzed.  Among NERD patients, either or both symptoms were present in 53% at baseline compared with 54% among the RE group.  In both NERD and RE patients, the presence of these regurgitation symptoms was associated with a poorer response to therapy.

  • Complete response of NERD patients with regurgitation symptoms:  RT 34%, RM 26%; in comparison to heartburn response of NERD patients which was 49%
  • Complete response of RE patients with regurgitation symptoms:  RT 44%, RM 33%; in comparison to heartburn response of NERD patients which was 55%

Additional references/blog entries: