What the physician needs to know for correct management of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease and dyspepsia

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Upper gastrointestinal symptoms are highly prevalent; usually those consulting have multiple symptoms, confounding management. Here, common clinically relevant management issues are considered based on the best available evidence. Regardless of the presenting symptoms, determine if there are any alarm features; these have a low positive predictive value for malignancy but all patients with them should be referred for prompt upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. Ask about medications; of most importance are the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), both non-selective and COX-2 selective. Try to ascertain if the symptom pattern suggests gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or not. Dominant heartburn, however, may be of limited value; if the background prevalence of GERD is 25% and the patient complains of dominant heartburn, then the likelihood that such a patient has GERD as identified by 24-h oesophageal pH testing is only just over 50%. If reflux disease is strongly suspected and there are no alarm features, give an empirical trial of a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). Symptoms cannot separate adequately functional from organic dyspepsia. Endoscopy in dyspepsia with no alarm features is more costly than an empirical management approach. H. pylori testing and treatment remains in most settings the preferable initial choice for managing dyspepsia without obvious GERD. However, a PPI trial may offer a similar outcome and may be preferable in low H. pylori prevalence areas; head-to-head management trials in primary care are lacking.

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