The exact relation between gastro-oesophageal reflux and asthma remains poorly understood. To determine whether gastro-oesophageal reflux in asthmatics results in oesophagitis, endoscopy and oesophageal biopsy were performed on 186 consecutive adult asthmatics. The presence or absence of reflux symptoms was not used as a selection criterion for asthmatics. Endoscopy was performed by two endoscopists using predefined criteria. All asthmatics had discrete wheezing and either a previous diagnosis of asthma or documented reversible airways obstruction of at least 20%. The oesophageal mucosa was graded as normal if no erosions or ulcerations were present in the tubular oesophagus; as oesophagitis if a mucosal break with exudate (erosions and/or ulcerations) was present; and as Barrett's if specialised (intestinal) columnar epithelium was present. A hiatal hernia was diagnosed if greater than or equal to 2 cm of gastric mucosa appeared above the diaphragm during endoscopy. Thirty nine per cent of the patients with asthma had oesophagitis or Barrett's oesophagus, or both. There was no difference in the oesophageal mucosal status between asthmatics who required and those who did not require bronchodilators. Fifty eight per cent of asthmatics had a hiatal hernia. It is concluded that oesophagitis is common and independent of the use of bronchodilator therapy in asthmatics.
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