Data on the natural course of gastrooesophageal reflux disease are sparse. One hundred and sixty six patients with typical reflux symptoms (heartburn and/or acid regurgitation) and pathologic pH monitoring (reflux time > 8.2% upright and/or > 3.0% supine) were studied. The patients were followed up by questionnaire and interview for a mean of 41 (seven to 86) months after diagnosis of reflux disease. Ten patients had died of diseases not reflux related. In 117 (75%) of the remaining 156 patients data on the course of gastrooesophageal reflux disease could be obtained. In 12 patients anti reflux surgery had been performed. Forty one (39%) of the remaining 105 patients have stopped taking medical therapy, in 13 of these patients symptoms had completely disappeared. Sixty four patients continued on medication (40 on demand, 24 regularly). When asked how their symptoms would be if they completely stopped medication, 71 patients considered their symptoms to be equal or worse and 21 patients to be improved as compared with the initial investigation. Patients with persisting symptoms at follow up had significantly more supine reflux (p < 0.05) at the initial pH monitoring as compared with patients with improved symptoms. The presence and grade of oesophageal erosions at initial endoscopy, duration of symptoms, age, sex, and smoking habits had no influence on the course of gastrooesophageal reflux disease. In conclusion, reflux symptoms disappear only in a minority of patients with proven gastrooesophageal reflux disease. More than half of all patients continue medication, either on demand or regularly. Severe supine reflux is an unfavourable prognostic factor.
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