Journal of Gastroenterology

, Volume 47, Issue 2, pp 159–168 | Cite as

Impedance-pH reflux patterns can differentiate non-erosive reflux disease from functional heartburn patients

  • Edoardo SavarinoEmail author
  • Patrizia Zentilin
  • Radu Tutuian
  • Daniel Pohl
  • Lorenzo Gemignani
  • Alberto Malesci
  • Vincenzo Savarino
Original Article—Alimentary Tract



Symptom association is important to distinguish non-erosive reflux disease [NERD; abnormal oesophageal acid exposure time (AET) and/or positive symptom association] from functional heartburn (FH; normal AET and negative symptom association). Asymptomatic patients during reflux monitoring are challenging as symptom association cannot be assessed.


To evaluate whether impedance-pH reflux patterns are useful to differentiate NERD from FH.


Endoscopy-negative reflux patients underwent impedance-pH off-therapy. Oesophageal AET, characteristics of reflux episodes and symptom association probability (SAP) were measured. Twenty patients asymptomatic during the first test repeated a second examination.


Of 329 patients, 130 (40%) were pH-POS, 120 (36%) pH-NEG/SAP+ (hypersensitive oesophagus = HO) and 79 (24%) pH-NEG/SAP− (FH). Total and acid reflux episodes were significantly higher (p < 0.01) in pH-POS compared to pH-NEG/SAP+, pH-NEG/SAP− and healthy volunteers (HVs). Patients pH-NEG/SAP+ had a significantly increased number of weakly acidic reflux episodes compared to pH-POS, pH-NEG/SAP− and HVs (p < 0.01). The rate of proximal reflux episodes in pH-POS (50%) and pH-NEG/SAP+ (47%) was higher (p < 0.01) than in pH-NEG/SAP− (33%) and HVs (33%). Measuring AET, number of reflux episodes and percentage of proximal reflux events permits to identify FH in 70% of cases and HO in 80% of cases who repeated the examination.


In patients with normal AET and SAP+, increased number of weakly acidic reflux and higher rate of proximal reflux are the main discriminant features. There is large overlap between FH and HVs. These differences can be of help in diagnosing patients with normal oesophageal acid exposure who fail to have symptoms during MII-pH testing.


Impedance pH-metry NERD Hypersensitive oesophagus Functional heartburn 


Conflict of interest

The authors declared no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edoardo Savarino
    • 1
    • 5
    Email author
  • Patrizia Zentilin
    • 1
  • Radu Tutuian
    • 2
  • Daniel Pohl
    • 3
  • Lorenzo Gemignani
    • 1
  • Alberto Malesci
    • 4
  • Vincenzo Savarino
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Internal MedicineUniversity of GenoaGenoaItaly
  2. 2.Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Department of Internal MedicineUniversity Hospital BernBernSwitzerland
  3. 3.Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Department of Internal MedicineUniversity Hospital ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  4. 4.Division of GastroenterologyIRCCS Istituto Clinico HumanitasMilanItaly
  5. 5.Di.M.I. Cattedra di GastroenterologiaUniversità di GenovaGenoaItaly

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