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Gastroenterology. 2005 Mar;128(3):771-8.

The pathogenesis of heartburn in nonerosive reflux disease: a unifying hypothesis.

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  • 1Tulane University Health Sciences Center, Department of Medicine SL-35, 1430 Tulane Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana 70112, USA.


Heartburn is a symptom complex that has traditionally been accepted as an acid-mediated event and a reliable indicator of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Recently, however, these concepts have been questioned because patients with endoscopy-negative "heartburn" have lower response rates to acid suppression with proton pump inhibitors than do patients with endoscopy-positive "heartburn," ie, erosive esophagitis. As explanation for this, 3 different mechanisms have been proposed to explain the occurrence of heartburn in the endoscopy-negative setting. They are: esophageal visceral hypersensitivity, sustained esophageal contractions, and abnormal tissue resistance. In this report, we review the observations in support of each concept and propose a means for reconciling them under one hypothesis: abnormal tissue resistance. Essential to this review and to the conclusions drawn about the pathogenesis of heartburn in nonerosive reflux disease is a reaffirmation of the definition of reflux-associated "heartburn" as an acid-mediated event requiring "relief by antacids" as a necessary component of the history.

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