Gastroesophageal reflux disease: An Asian perspective

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The prevalence of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) ranges from 2.5% to 7.1% in most population-based studies in Asia. There is evidence that GERD and its complications are rising, coinciding with a decline in Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection. Asian GERD patients share similar risk factors and pathophysiological mechanisms with their Western counterparts. Possible causes for the lower prevalence of GERD include less obesity and hiatus hernia, a lesser degree of esophageal dysmotility, a high prevalence of virulent strains of H. pylori, and low awareness. Owing to the lack of precise translation for ‘heartburn’ in most Asian languages, reflux symptoms are often overlooked or misinterpreted as dyspepsia or chest pain. Furthermore, a symptom-based diagnosis with a therapeutic trial of the proton pump inhibitor (PPI) may be hampered by the high prevalence of H. pylori-related disease. The risk stratification for prompt endoscopy, use of a locally-validated, diagnostic symptom questionnaire, and response to H. pylori‘test and treat’ help improve the accuracy of the PPI test for diagnoses. PPI remain the gold standard treatment, and ‘on-demand’ PPI have been shown to be a cost-effective, long-term treatment. The clinical course of GERD is benign in most patients in Asia. The risk of progression from non-erosive reflux disease to erosive esophagitis is low, and treatment response to a conventional dose of PPI is generally higher. Although H. pylori eradication may lead to more resilient GERD in a subset of patients, the benefits of H. pylori eradication outweigh the risks, especially in Asian populations with a high incidence of gastric cancer.

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