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Dig Dis. 2004;22(2):196-201.

What parameters are relevant for the histological diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease without Barrett's mucosa?

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Institute of Pathology, Otto-Von-Guericke University, Magdeburg, Germany.



There are still ongoing controversies as to which histological parameters allow the diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The aim of the present analysis was to relate histological changes of the esophageal squamous epithelium to different severities of GERD.


Data were obtained from patients participating in the ProGERD study, who had either erosive reflux disease (ERD, n = 3,245) or non-erosive reflux disease (NERD, n = 2,970). 1,475 patients fulfilled our requirement of having complete biopsy data from two sites (2 cm above the z-line and at the z-line). Changes in the squamous epithelium were assessed by measuring the thickness of the basal cell layer and elongation of the papillae as a percentage of the whole epithelial thickness and counting interepithelial inflammatory cells.


The most useful parameters for histological assessment of GERD (given as means, 2 cm above the z-line and at the z-line, respectively) were elongation of the papillae: NERD 40.7 and 48.9%; ERD 46.1 and 54.9% and basal cell hyperplasia: NERD 12.7 and 17.9%; ERD 15.7 and 23.0%. The occurrence of intraepithelial lymphocytic infiltrates, however, is dependent on the severity of GERD, and they are more common than neutrophilic and eosinophilic granulocytes.


This study shows that both NERD and ERD can be diagnosed histologically if biopsies are obtained from the distal esophagus or from the z-line. Intraepithelial inflammatory cells are rare and show a high specificity, but very low sensitivity.

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