BACKGROUND: In the absence of oesophageal erosions longterm pH monitoring is the present gold standard for diagnosing gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). This method, however, is invasive, time consuming, expensive, and not generally available. AIMS: As histological changes have been described in GORD, this study looked at the possibility of whether the diagnosis of non-erosive reflux disease could be made by histological examination routinely during endoscopy. SUBJECTS: A total of 24 prospectively selected patients with symptoms suggestive of GORD and seven healthy volunteers. METHODS: Oesophageal erosions and other peptic lesions were excluded by oesophago-gastroduodenoscopy. Oesophageal pinch biopsy specimens were taken 2 cm and 5 cm above the oesophagogastric junction and evaluated blindly for the histological parameters cellular infiltration, basal zone hyperplasia, and papillary length. Twenty four hour pH monitoring was used as gold standard for the definition of reflux disease. It was abnormal in 13 patients (reflux patients) and normal in 11 patients (symptomatic controls) and in seven healthy volunteers. RESULTS: Sparse infiltration of the epithelium with lymphocytes in at least one biopsy specimen was found in all patients and volunteers, with neutrophils in three reflux patients, and with eosinophils in two reflux patients and in two healthy volunteers. The basal zone thickness was increased in three reflux patients, in one symptomatic control, and in one healthy volunteer. The papillary length was greater than two thirds of total epithelium in six of 13 reflux patients in contrast with none in 11 symptomatic controls (p < 0.05) and to one healthy volunteer. The sensitivity of the parameter papillary length hence was only 46%. CONCLUSIONS: Although gastro-oesophageal reflux produces slight histological changes apart from oesophageal erosions in a few subjects, none of the established histological parameters can fulfil the for the diagnosis of GORD in patients without visible oesophageal erosions.
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