Non-erosive reflux disease: Part of the spectrum of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, a component of functional dyspepsia, or both?
Over the last several decades, the incidences of gastric cancer and peptic ulcer have declined while the incidences of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and functional dyspepsia have reached virtually epidemic proportions. A similar trend is occurring in oesophageal cancer, with squamous cell carcinoma on the decline and adenocarcinoma on the rise, possibly due to the dramatic increase in GORD. The true clinical spectrum of these disorders, however, is only recently becoming evident: 60% of patients with GORD do not have detectable evidence of oesophagitis; they can be classified as having non-erosive or negative-endoscopy reflux disease (NERD). In this subgroup, a significant proportion will also manifest normal acid exposure on 24-h pH monitoring. Further, patients with NERD appear to be somewhat less responsive to gastric acid suppression with proton pump inhibitors. These differences, combined with the concept of the 'tender' oesophagus and the frequent presence of dyspeptic symptoms in patients with NERD, have important therapeutic implications. Therefore, considering the marked overlap in these disorders, is it realistic or clinically relevant to distinguish the entities of GORD, NERD, and functional dyspepsia? This dilemma has led to general guidelines: should heartburn predominate, treat as GORD; if dyspepsia predominates, treat as functional dyspepsia. In practical terms, each diagnosis requires consideration of the other.