Facts and Fantasies on Extraesophageal Reflux: A Gastroenterologist Perspective

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Gastroesophageal reflux disease encompasses a wide spectrum of disorders related to the reflux of gastric contents into the esophagus. Extraesophageal reflux (EER) may be suspected in patients with unexplained chronic cough, pharyngolaryngeal symptoms, and asthma. For physicians, suspected EER is challenging as there is currently no tool that can reliably make a definitive diagnosis. Endoscopic signs are not specific, pharyngeal and proximal reflux monitoring are not reliable, and if distal pH or pH-impedance monitoring can identify patients with abnormal reflux, they cannot predict the response to therapy. Controlled randomized trials have failed to reliably demonstrate any benefit of high-dose proton-pump inhibitors over placebo in patients with laryngeal symptoms, chronic cough, and asthma. Overall, the role of gastroesophageal reflux has been largely overestimated in patients with suspected EER. Especially when proton-pump inhibitors failed to improve symptoms, other diagnosis should be considered, such as functional laryngeal disorders which are probably much more prevalent in these patients than pathologic gastroesophageal reflux.

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