The Connection Between Anxiety and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Why is it that reflux is so much worse during periods of anxiety and depression?

A recent prospective study (Kessing BF et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2015; 13: 1089-1095) of 225 consecutive patients with symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) looks into this issue.  All patients underwent ambulatory 24-hour pH-impedance (pH-MII) monitoring and had assessment of anxiety/depression with the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale.

GERD was defined by having pathologic acid exposure time and/or positive temporal correlation between the occurrence of symptoms ad reflux episodes. Hypersensitivity to reflux was considered if there was physiologic acid exposure times while having temporal association between reflux episodes and symptoms.  Functional heartburn indicated the presence of symptoms with a normal pH-MII.

Key findings:

  • 147 patients had GERD and 78 had functional heartburn; 36 patients were considered hypersensitive to gastroesophageal reflux.
  • Among patients with GERD (including patients with hypersensitivity), increased anxiety/depression levels were associated with more severe retrosternal pain/burning. However, anxiety/depression were NOT associated with an increased number of reflux episodes or number of symptoms reported on pH-MII.
  • Patients with functional heartburn had higher levels of anxiety than patients with GERD.

Bottomline: Anxiety is associated with increased GERD symptoms.  In addition, anxiety is more prevalent in patients with functional heartburn.

Briefly noted: Review (Lipa S, et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2015; 13: 1058-67) of 4 trials with 153 analyzed patients:  “Stretta [radiofrequency ablation] for patient with GERD does not produce significant changes, compared with sham therapy, in physiologic parameters, including time spent at pH less than 4, LESP, ability to stop PPIs, or HRQOL.”.

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RFA doesn’t always work for Barrett’s

As noted previously in a related blog (Preventing Cancer in patients with Barrett’s Esophagus), Barrett’s esophagus (BE) is not a frequent issue in pediatric gastroenterology.  However, some esophageal problems that start in childhood can predispose to this condition later in life. Certainly, BE is a frequent clinical issue in adult gastroenterology.

Three articles in this month’s Gastroenterology provide some useful information.

  • Gastroenterology 2012; 143: 564-66
  • Gastroenterology 2012; 143: 567-75
  • Gastroenterology 2012; 143: 576-81

An editorial on these three articles is available on page 524.

The first reference describes three cases of high-grade dysplasia and adenocarcinoma that developed after ‘successful’ radiofrequency ablation (RFA).  Thus, the authors advocate continued surveillance following RFA and caution in using RFA to patients with low-risk BE.

The second reference describes an elaborate model to determine if RFA is cost-effective.  Based on their assumptions, “initial RFA might not be cost-effective for patients with BE without dysplasia.”   Though, the authors indicate that one of the cost savings was that RFA was more effective and less costly than endoscopic surveillance.  The authors acknowledge that their analysis is limited by assumptions and that the only alternative would be a large multicenter randomized trial with a long followup.

The third study examined 37 RFA patients.  22 were classified as complete responders and 15 were incomplete; complete responders had no intestinal metaplasia after fewer than 3 ablation sessions.  Risks for persistent intestinal metaplasia were uncontrolled weakly acidic reflux despite twice-daily PPI therapy, longer length of BE, and larger hiatal hernias.

Preventing Cancer in patients with Barrett’s Esophagus

Though Barrett’s esophagus is rare in pediatric gastroenterology, concerns about esophageal cancer are fairly frequent.  In addition, some conditions that increase the risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma start in childhood.

One way to lessen the risk of Barrett’s esophagus in adults is through the use of medications (Gastroenterology 2012; 142: 442-52).  This study was a pooled analysis of six population-based trials with a total of 1226 esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) patients and 1140 esophagogastric junctional adenocarcinoma (EGJA) patients.  NSAIDs (aspirin and nonaspirin) lowered the risk of both EAC and EGJA, with OR of 0.68 and 0.83 respectively.

Although this study suggests a possible role for NSAIDs in preventing cancer in patients with Barrett’s esophagus, the risks and benefits for this intervention need to be individualized.

Related previous blog post: More bad news for smokers

Additional references:

  • -Gastroenterology 2011; 141: 2000. Lower risk of Barrett’s in pts taking NSAIDs & statins. n=570.
  • -Gastroenterology 2011; 141: 1179. Overall, patients with BE and LGD have a low annual incidence of EAC, similar to nondysplastic BE. There are no risk factors for progression and there is significant interobserver variation in diagnosis, even among expert pathologists.
  • -NEJM 2011; 365: 1375. Large Danish study, n=11028. Lower incidence of Barrett’s than previous estimates. Relative risk of 11.3 compared to general population for adenoca of Esophagus with absolute annual risk of 0.12%. Barrett’s patients have the same life expectancy as general population (ed. pg 1437). Detecting cancer only ~1 in 1460 scopes with screening whereas Barrett’s detected in 10% of pts.
  • -Gastroenterology 2011; 141: 417, 460. Durable effects of ablation, n=127..
  • -Gastroenterology 2011; 140: 1084. AGA statement on Barrett’s . Recs screening only in those with multiple risk factors (age 50, male, chronic GERD, white, incr BMI)
  • -Clin Gastro & Hep 2010; 8: 565. Guidelines suggest that screening for Barrett’s is not justified w/o alarm symptoms (dysphagia, odynophagia, wt loss, anemia, hematemesis)
  • -Gastroenterology 2010; 138: 2260. n=11,823. Decrease risk of esophageal adenoCa in patients taking NSAIDs & statins.
  • -Gastroenterology 2010; 138: 854. Nice review.
  • -Gastroenterology 2010; 138: 5. Survival equivalent to general population according to Mayo study, n=366. In Barrett’s patients, leading cause of death was cardiovascular (28%). Esophageal cancer resulted in 7% of deaths. Study presented at ACG Oct 26, 2009.
  • -Clin Gastro & Hepatology 2009; 7: 1266. no benefit from surgery for Barrett’s & unclear if chemoprevention works.
  • -Gastroenterology 2009; 137: 763. Suggests surveillance with Barrett’s is not beneficial.
  • -NEJM 2009; 360: 2277, 2353.. Radiofrequency ablation can be effective.
  • -Gut 2008; 57: 1200-06. Utility of endoscopic Rx.
  • -Clin Gastro & Hep 2008; 6: 1206; editorials: 1180, 1181, 1183.. n=2107 with Barrett’s. 79 w surgery and 80 w endoscopic Rx.
  • -Gastro & Hep 2006; 2: 468. 2-8% of pts in general population have Barrett’s. >90% of ptsc Barretts will never develop cancer. Screening has not been proven to be effective in lowering rate of death from cancer. ~40% of US population has heartburn; only 8000-9000/yr develop esoph adenoCa. Also, the presence of Barrett esophagus does not decrease life expectancy.
  • -Gastroenterology 2005; 129: 1825-31. 1.6% incidence of BE in adult Swedish population. Alcohol, smoking increase risk.