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Ann Surg. 1997 Oct;226(4):522-30; discussion 530-2.

Inflammation and specialized intestinal metaplasia of cardiac mucosa is a manifestation of gastroesophageal reflux disease.

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University of Southern California School of Medicine, Department of Surgery, Los Angeles 90033-4612, USA.



The purpose of the study was to test the hypothesis that cardiac mucosa, carditis, and specialized intestinal metaplasia at an endoscopically normal-appearing cardia are manifestations of gastroesophageal reflux disease.


In the absence of esophageal mucosal injury, the diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease currently rests on 24-hour pH monitoring. Histologic examination of the esophagus is not useful. The recent identification of specialized intestinal metaplasia at the cardia, along with the observation that it occurs in inflamed cardiac mucosa, led the authors to focus on the type and condition of the mucosa at the gastroesophageal junction and its relation to gastroesophageal reflux disease.


Three hundred thirty-four consecutive patients with symptoms of foregut disease, no evidence of columnar-lined esophagus, and no history of gastric or esophageal surgery were evaluated by 1) endoscopic biopsies above, at, and below the gastroesophageal junction; 2) esophageal motility; and 3) 24-hour esophageal pH monitoring. The patients were divided into groups depending on the histologic presence of cardiac epithelium with and without inflammation or associated intestinal metaplasia. Markers of gastroesophageal reflux disease were compared between groups (i.e., lower esophageal sphincter characteristics, esophageal acid exposure, the presence of endoscopic erosive esophagitis, and hiatal hernia).


When cardiac epithelium was found, it was inflamed in 96% of the patients. The presence of cardiac epithelium and carditis was associated with deterioration of lower esophageal sphincter characteristics and increased esophageal acid exposure. Esophagitis occurred more commonly in patients with carditis whose sphincter, on manometry, was structurally defective. Specialized intestinal metaplasia at the cardia was only seen in inflamed cardiac mucosa, and its prevalence increased both with increasing acid exposure and with the presence of esophagitis.


The findings of cardiac mucosa, carditis, and intestinal metaplasia in an endoscopically normal-appearing gastroesophageal junction are histologic indicators of gastroesophageal reflux disease. These findings may be among the earliest signs of gastroesophageal reflux and contribute to the authors understanding of the pathophysiology of the disease process.

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