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Acta Otorhinolaryngol Ital. 2006 Oct;26(5):241-6.

Pathophysiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.

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Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, University "Federico II", Naples, Italy.


Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease is a condition in which the reflux of gastric contents into the oesophagus provokes symptoms or complications and impairs quality of life. Typical symptoms of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease are heartburn and regurgitation but gastro-oesophageal reflux disease has also been related to extra-oesophageal manifestations, such as asthma, chronic cough and laryngitis. The pathogenesis of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease is multifactorial, involving transient lower oesophageal sphincter relaxations and other lower oesophageal sphincter pressure abnormalities. As a result, reflux of acid, bile, pepsin and pancreatic enzymes occurs, leading to oesophageal mucosal injury. Other factors contributing to the pathophysiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease include hiatal hernia, impaired oesophageal clearance, delayed gastric emptying and impaired mucosal defensive factors. Hiatal hernia contributes to gastro-oesophageal reflux disease by promoting lower oesophageal sphincter dysfunction. Impaired oesophageal clearance is responsible for prolonged acid exposure of the mucosa. Delayed gastric emptying, resulting in gastric distension, can significantly increase the rate of transient lower oesophageal sphincter relaxations, contributing to postprandial gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. The mucosal defensive factors play an important role against development of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, by neutralizing the backdiffusion of hydrogen ion into the oesophageal tissue. While the pathogenesis of oesophageal symptoms is now well known, the mechanisms underlying extra-oesophageal airway manifestations are still poorly understood. Two hypotheses have been proposed: direct contact of gastric acid with the upper airway and a vago-vagal reflex elicited by acidification of the distal oesophagus, leading to bronchospasm. In conclusion, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease can be considered as the result of a complex interplay of factors, all promoting the contact of gastric acidic contents with the oesophageal mucosa, leading to different degrees of oesophageal damage.

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