Can J Gastroenterol Vol 19 No 1 January 2005 15
Canadian Consensus Conference on the management
of gastroesophageal reflux disease in adults –
David Armstrong MD1, John K Marshall MD1, Naoki Chiba MD1,2, Robert Enns MD3, Carlo A Fallone MD4,
Ronnie Fass MD5, Roger Hollingworth MD6, Richard H Hunt MD1, Peter J Kahrilas MD7, Serge Mayrand MD4,
Paul Moayyedi MD1,8, William G Paterson MD9, Dan Sadowski MD10, Sander JO Veldhuyzen van Zanten MD11,
for the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology GERD Consensus Group*
1Division of Gastroenterology, McMaster University, Hamilton; 2Surrey GI Research, Guelph, Ontario; 3University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, British Columbia; 4McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, Quebec; 5University of Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona, USA;
6Credit Valley Hospital, Mississauga, Ontario; 7Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, USA; 8University of Birmingham, Birmingham,
United Kingdom; 9Queen’s University, Hotel Dieu Hospital, Kingston, Ontario; 10Royal Alexandra Hospital, Edmonton, Alberta; 11Dalhousie
University, Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, Halifax, Nova Scotia; *See list of voting participants in the appendix
Correspondence: Dr David Armstrong, Division of Gastroenterology, HSC-4W8, McMaster University Medical Centre, 1200 Main Street West,
Hamilton, Ontario L8N 3Z5. Telephone 905-521-2100 ext 76404, fax 905-521-4958, e-mail email@example.com
Received and accepted for publication October 20, 2004
D Armstrong, JK Marshall, N Chiba, et al; for the Canadian
Association of Gastroenterology GERD Consensus Group.
Canadian Consensus Conference on the management of
gastroesophageal reflux disease in adults – Update 2004. Can J
BACKGROUND: Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the
most prevalent acid-related disorder in Canada and is associated with
significant impairment of health-related quality of life. Since the last
Canadian Consensus Conference in 1996, GERD management has
OBJECTIVE: To develop up-to-date evidence-based recommenda-
tions relevant to the needs of Canadian health care providers for the
management of the esophageal manifestations of GERD.
CONSENSUS PROCESS: A multidisciplinary group of 23 voting
participants developed recommendation statements using a Delphi
approach; after presentation of relevant data at the meeting, the qual-
ity of the evidence, strength of recommendation and level of consen-
sus were graded by participants according to accepted principles.
OUTCOMES: GERD applies to individuals who reflux gastric con-
tents into the esophagus causing symptoms sufficient to reduce quality
of life, injury or both; endoscopy-negative reflux disease applies to
individuals who have GERD and a normal endoscopy. Uninvestigated
heartburn-dominant dyspepsia – characterised by heartburn or acid
regurgitation – includes erosive esophagitis or endoscopy-negative
reflux disease, and may be treated empirically as GERD without fur-
ther investigation provided there are no alarm features. Lifestyle mod-
ifications are ineffective for frequent or severe GERD symptoms;
over-the-counter antacids or histamine H2-receptor antagonists are
effective for some patients with mild or infrequent GERD symptoms.
Proton pump inhibitors are more effective for healing and symptom
relief than histamine H2-receptor antagonists; their efficacy is propor-
tional to their ability to reduce intragastric acidity. Response to initial
therapy – a once-daily proton pump inhibitor unless symptoms are
mild and infrequent (fewer than three times per week) – should be
assessed at four to eight weeks. Maintenance medical therapy should
be at the lowest dose and frequency necessary to maintain symptom
relief; antireflux surgery is an alternative for a small proportion of
selected patients. Routine testing for Helicobacter pylori infection is
unnecessary before starting GERD therapy. GERD is associated with
Barrett’s epithelium and esophageal adenocarcinoma but the risk of
malignancy is very low. Endoscopic screening for Barrett’s epithelium
may be considered in adults with GERD symptoms for more than
10 years; Barrett’s epithelium and low-grade dysplasia generally war-
rant surveillance; endoscopic or surgical management should be con-
sidered for confirmed high-grade dysplasia or malignancy.
CONCLUSION: Prospective studies are needed to investigate clini-
cally relevant risk factors for the development of GERD and its com-
plications; GERD progression, on and off therapy; optimal
management strategies for typical GERD symptoms in primary care
patients; and optimal management strategies for atypical GERD symp-
toms, Barrett’s epithelium and esophageal adenocarcinoma.
Key Words: Barrett’s epithelium; Endoscopy negative reflux disease;
Erosive esophagitis; Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); Proton
pump inhibitor (PPI)
La conférence consensuelle canadienne sur la
prise en charge du reflux gastroœsophagien
pathologique : Mise à jour 2004
HISTORIQUE : Le reflux gastroœsophagien pathologique (RGOP) est
le trouble acidobasique le plus prévalent au Canada, et il s’associe a une
défaillance marquée de la qualité de vie reliée à la santé. Depuis la
dernière conférence consensuelle canadienne de 1996, la prise en charge
du RGOP a énormément progressé.
OBJECTIF : Élaborer des recommandations à jour fondées sur des faits
probants applicables aux besoins des dispensateurs de soins canadiens
pour la prise en charge des manifestations œsophagiennes du RGOP.
PROCESSUS CONSENSUEL : Un groupe multidisciplinaire de
23 participants ayant droit de vote ont élaboré des recommandations au
moyen de la méthode Delphi. Après avoir présenté les données perti-
nentes en réunion, la qualité des données probantes, la solidité des recom-
mandations et le taux de consensus ont été classés par les participants
d’après des principes acceptés.
ISSUES : Le RGOP s’applique aux individus dont le contenu du reflux
dans l’œsophage provoque assez de symptômes pour réduire la qualité
de vie, causer des lésions ou les deux. Le reflux négatif à l’endoscopie
©2005 Pulsus Group Inc. All rights reserved
approximately 17% of Canadians reported heartburn in the pre-
astroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) imposes an impor-
tant burden of illness in Canada. In a population survey,
ceding three months and 13% reported moderate to severe
symptoms occurring at least weekly (1). GERD significantly
impairs quality of life (2-4), both in patients with erosive
esophagitis and in those who have no endoscopic evidence of
injury (endoscopy-negative reflux disease [ENRD]) (3,5).
Although disease-related mortality is low, health-related quality
of life (HRQL) is worse in patients with GERD than in patients
with diabetes, hypertension, mild heart failure and arthritis (6).
Since the last Canadian GERD Consensus, held in 1996 (7),
numerous studies have provided new evidence relevant to the
management of GERD with increasing emphasis on symptom-
based management (8,9), supported by greater recognition of
the importance of ENRD. The role of investigations has
evolved as a result of advances in the endoscopic assessment of
erosive esophagitis severity (10-12), and a re-evaluation of the
role of ambulatory pH monitoring (13). GERD therapy has
also changed; in the realm of medical therapy, proton pump
inhibitors (PPIs) have assumed greater importance, both at
standard and higher doses, histamine H2-receptor antagonists
(H2RAs) have become available as over-the-counter medica-
tions and the role of prokinetic agents has diminished.
Antireflux surgery continues to evolve and new endoscopic
therapies are under development. As a result of these advances,
there is a need for a comprehensive, up-to-date, evidence-based
review of GERD management to guide patients, physicians,
payers and regulators, as well as the pharmaceutical and med-
ical equipment industry, in their assessment of different strate-
gies for diagnosis and initial and long-term treatment,
including pharmacotherapy, endoscopic therapy and antireflux
The key areas addressed by the 2004 GERD Consensus
Update were the prevalence and burden of GERD in Canada,
the diagnosis of GERD (including the role of symptoms and
investigations), initial and long-term treatment strategies and
the management of GERD sequelae including Barrett’s esoph-
agus and esophageal cancer. The consensus dealt only with
‘typical’ esophageal manifestations of GERD. Noncardiac
chest pain (NCCP) and possible extraesophageal manifesta-
tions of GERD such as laryngitis, hoarseness, dysphonia,
cough, asthma and dental disease were not discussed in detail.
Several pediatric gastroenterologists participated in the meet-
ing but specific data in children and adolescents were not
reviewed; we refer the reader to the North American Society
for Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition Clinical Practice
Statements to define current understanding or positions relevant
to GERD were developed according to generally accepted stan-
dards (15,16) using a seven-step approach (Figure 1) to address the
37 pertinent criteria of validity (16-21).
Determination of need for updated guidelines
The need for updated clinical practice guidelines on the manage-
ment of adult patients with GERD was assessed by an initial
review of the existing literature and current recommendations rel-
evant to Canadian practice. This assessment revealed significant
changes since the publication of the previous Canadian guidelines
in 1997 (7), and a proposal to update those guidelines was, conse-
quently, approved by the executive of the Canadian Association
of Gastroenterology (CAG).
Membership of the Consensus group
A steering committee, selected in consultation with CAG, invited
experts in the areas of GERD management, evidence-based medi-
cine and continuing medical education to join a multidisciplinary
group that comprised 23 voting participants, including Canadian
and international gastroenterologists, endoscopists, family physi-
cians and surgeons (Appendix). Nonvoting observers included
physicians (members of CAG) and representatives from govern-
ment (Health Canada), the pharmaceutical industry, and distribu-
tors and manufacturers of medical equipment (Appendix).
Determination of clinically relevant issues
The issues were identified by means of two needs assessments con-
ducted in Canadian physicians: 44 primary care physicians from the
Canadian Association of Primary Care Gastroenterology (CanGut)
completed a paper-based questionnaire, while 86 specialists (81 of
approximately 450 Canadian gastroenterologists and five surgeons)
were polled using interactive, keypad-based voting in a large group
setting. Issues identified by the needs assessments were then
reviewed to determine whether they could be resolved with the
existing knowledge base, were relevant to current practice, and were
consistent with current GERD management strategies (16).
Members of the steering committee then identified a number of rel-
evant topics that were circulated electronically for review before the
Armstrong et al
Can J Gastroenterol Vol 19 No 1 January 200516
s’applique aux personnes qui souffrent de RGOP et dont l’endoscopie est
normale. Une dyspepsie dominée par des brûlures d’estomac non
explorées, caractérisée par des brûlures d’estomac ou une régurgitation
acide, inclut l’œsophagite érosive ou le reflux négatif à l’endoscopie et peut
être traitée empiriquement comme un RGOP, sans examens plus appro-
fondis, pourvu qu’on n’observe aucune caractéristique alarmante. Les
changements au mode de vie ne sont pas efficaces à l’égard de symptômes
de RGOP fréquents ou graves. Les antiacides ou les inhibiteurs du récep-
teur H2de l’histamine en vente libre sont efficaces pour certains patients
atteints de symptômes de RGOP légers ou peu fréquents. Les inhibiteurs de
la pompe à protons sont plus efficaces pour la cicatrisation et le soulage-
ment des symptômes que les inhibiteurs du récepteur H2de l’histamine.
Leur efficacité est proportionnelle à leur capacité de réduire l’acidité intra-
gastrique. La réponse au traitement initial, constitué d’un inhibiteur de la
pompe à proton quotidien à moins que les symptômes soient légers et peu
fréquents (moins de trois fois par semaine), devrait être évaluée au bout de
quatre à huit semaines. Une médicothérapie d’entretien devrait être main-
tenue à la dose et à la fréquence les plus faibles nécessaires pour maintenir
un soulagement des symptômes. Une opération antireflux représente une
solution pour une petite proportion de patients. Il n’est pas nécessaire de
procéder au dépistage systématique de l’infection à Helicobacter pylori avant
d’entreprendre le traitement du RGOP. Le RGOP s’associe à l’épithélium
de Barrett et à l’adocarcinome de l’œsophage, mais le risque de malignité
est très faible. Le dépistage endoscopique de l’épithélium de Barrett peut
être envisagé chez les adultes qui présentent des symptômes de RGOP
depuis plus de dix ans. D’ordinaire, l’épithélium de Barrett et la dysplasie
bénigne exigent une surveillance. La prise en charge endoscopique ou
chirurgicale devrait être envisagée en présence d’une dysplasie ou d’une
malignité grave confirmée.
CONCLUSIONS : Des études prospectives s’imposent pour examiner les
facteurs de risques pertinents, d’un point de vue clinique, à l’apparition du
RGOP et de ses complications, à la progression du RGOP avec ou sans
traitement, aux stratégies optimales de prise en charge des symptômes clas-
siques de RGOP chez des patients de première ligne et aux stratégies opti-
males de prise en charge en présence de symptômes non classiques de
RGOP, d’épithélium de Barrett ou d’adénocarcinome œsophagien.
meeting (22,23); each topic was then used to generate a statement
suitable for discussion and revision by the conference participants
before undergoing a final vote on its acceptability.
Nature and extent of background preparation
Literature review methods for relevant articles included MED-
LINE searches and manual searches of bibliographies of key arti-
cles published in English between 1966 and February 2004. Search
terms included: “GERD”, “erosive and non-erosive reflux
esophagitis”, “endoscopy-negative reflux disease”, “alarm fea-
tures”, “ambulatory esophageal pH monitoring”, “Barrett’s esopha-
gus”, “dysplasia”, “healing”, “quality of life”, “lifestyle
modifications”, “alginate”, “antacid”, “histamine-receptor antago-
nist”, “proton pump inhibitor”, “endoscopy”, “surgical therapy”,
“economics”, “guidelines” and “meta-analysis”. Past reviews,
meta-analyses and published consensus conferences were used to
summarize older data. Narrative reviews were presented at the
Consensus Conference before formal voting on the statements
that had been identified for discussion at the meeting.
More than 720 articles were reviewed and the Delphi process
identified 27 topics for discussion at the meeting. Statements that
were identified by the Delphi process as being less controversial or
of lower priority were put to a vote without formal discussion dur-
ing the conference.
Delphi Consensus process
Each statement was graded to indicate the level of evidence avail-
able and the strength of the recommendation by using the classifi-
cation system of the Canadian Task Force on the Periodic Health
Examination (Table 1) (24). This classification system was devel-
oped to assess literature on therapy rather than literature on prog-
nosis, diagnosis or definitions; the grading procedure was,
therefore, modified for some statements, such as those on disease
definition and prevalence (24).
A two-day Consensus Conference was held in March 2004, under
the auspices of the CAG according to generally accepted princi-
ples (15,16). At the Consensus Conference, data were presented
and the statements and the grades attributed to evidence were dis-
cussed, modified if necessary, and voted on by each participant
according to recognized criteria (Table 1) (9). The CAG secured
unrestricted, multipartner funding from the Canadian Institutes of
Health Research and industry sponsors, and it administered all
aspects of the meeting. Statements of conflicts of interest were
obtained from all voting participants (25).
Preparation process and format of the report
A working group drafted the manuscript, which was then reviewed by
all voting conference participants and the nonvoting chairs, all of
whom approved the final draft. It was then submitted to the Board of
the CAG for approval and posted on the CAG Web site for review by
the CAG membership before submission for peer review.
Each statement is followed by a brief summary, which indicates
the quality of supporting evidence, a classification of the recom-
mendation and the results of the participants’ vote (Table 1).
Statements that only defined terminology were not assigned a
level of evidence. Statements marked with an asterisk (*) were
put to a vote without formal discussion during the conference
(see ‘Nature and extent of background preparation’).
IMPACT OF GERD
Statement 1*: GERD is the most prevalent acid-related disorder in
Canada (Level II-1, A; vote: a 86%, b 14%).
In a population survey of over 1000 Canadians, 17% reported
Canadian Consensus on the management of GERD
Can J Gastroenterol Vol 19 No 1 January 200517
Categorization of evidence, classification of
recommendations and voting schemata
Quality of evidence
IEvidence obtained from at least one properly randomized controlled trial
II-1 Evidence obtained from well-designed controlled trials without randomization
II-2 Evidence obtained from well-designed cohort or case-control analytic
studies, preferably from more than one centre or research group
II-3 Evidence obtained from comparisons between times or places with or
without the intervention, or dramatic results in uncontrolled experiments
IIIOpinions of respected authorities, based on clinical experience,
descriptive studies or reports of expert committees
Classification of recommendations
A There is good evidence to support the procedure or treatment
B There is fair evidence to support the procedure or treatment
C There is poor evidence to support the procedure or treatment,
but recommendations may be made on other grounds
D There is fair evidence that the procedure or treatment should not be used
E There is good evidence that the procedure or treatment should not be used
Voting on the recommendations*
a Accept completely
b Accept with some reservation
c Accept with major reservation
d Reject with reservation
e Reject completely
*Accept statement where more than 50% of participants voted a, b or c
Figure 1) The adopted process of guideline development. Data from
1. Determination of need for guidelines
Conduct needs assessment, review existing background literature and timing of previously published
2. Membership of the Consensus group
Identify participants for their expertise and representation of multiple relevant disciplines and societies
3. Determination of clinically relevant issues
Identify clinically relevant topics based on literature review and clinical needs assessments
4. Nature and extent of background preparation
Identify key articles and develop narrative and systematic reviews
5. Delphi consensus process
Initiate a Delphi Consensus process six weeks prior to conference to circulate preliminary statements and
6. The Consensus Conference
Present recommendation statement, a summary review of evidence and grading for discussion and vote
7. Preparation process and format of the report
Draft manuscript and circulate for review by voting conference participants and non-voting chair
heartburn in the preceding three months and 13% reported
moderate to severe symptoms occurring at least weekly (1).
The prevalence of erosive esophagitis in the general popula-
tion has not been well documented and was thought to be as
low as 2% (26,27) although, in one report, endoscopy revealed
esophagitis in 8.5% of 355 healthy volunteers (28). The preva-
lence of erosive esophagitis is probably between one-third to
two-thirds among patients with reflux symptoms (29), suggesting
a prevalence of 5% to 12% in the general population (5,30-33).
In a recent Canadian study (33), which excluded patients
whose sole symptoms were heartburn or regurgitation, 37.8%
of 1040 primary care patients with previously uninvestigated
dyspepsia reported dominant symptoms of heartburn or regur-
gitation, and of these, 54.7% had erosive esophagitis; overall,
60.5% of the study patients had dominant reflux symptoms or
endoscopic esophagitis. Thus, in Canadian patients with unin-
vestigated dyspepsia (symptoms consistent with an upper gas-
trointestinal, acid-related disorder), the most common
condition was GERD presenting either as typical symptoms or
with typical erosive esophagitis, with many others having typ-
ical GERD symptoms despite a normal endoscopy (ENRD).
Statement 2*: GERD is associated with significant impairment of
HRQL (Level I, A; vote: a 90%, b 10%).
GERD is associated with significant impairment of patients’
HRQL (1-4,34) both for patients with erosive esophagitis and
those with ENRD (3,5). In general, HRQL is reported to be
worse in patients with GERD than in patients with diabetes,
hypertension, mild heart failure or arthritis (6).
GERD is also associated with a loss of time from work and
with decreased productivity (35,36). A survey of 102 patients
with GERD found that 41% reported some lost work produc-
tivity because of their disease (35); time off for physician visits
and reduced productivity while at work were the most costly
losses associated with GERD.
Statement 3: GERD applies to individuals with reflux of gastric
contents into the esophagus causing (a) symptoms sufficient to
reduce quality of life and/or (b) esophageal injury (vote: a 96%,
Statement 4*: Heartburn (a retrosternal burning sensation which
may rise to the back of the throat) and acid regurgitation are the
archetypal symptoms of GERD, which can be treated empirically
without further investigation, provided there are no alarm features
(Level I, A; vote: a 100%).
Statement 5*: Heartburn-dominant uninvestigated dyspepsia
applies to individuals who have symptoms, referable to the esopha-
gus, or a reduced quality of life attributable to gastroesophageal
reflux, in the absence of any prior investigations (Level III, A; vote:
a 58%, b 37%, c 6%).
Statement 6: ENRD applies to individuals with GERD who have a
normal endoscopy (while off treatment) (vote: a 96%, b 4%).
GERD may manifest with symptoms, esophageal injury or
both; if neither is present, the patient with increased acid
exposure on esophageal pH monitoring may be considered to
have nonpathological gastroesophageal reflux, but not GERD.
As indicated above (statement 1), 30% to 70% of patients
with GERD symptoms have no esophageal abnormality at
endoscopy (5,30-33); this may be because there is no, and never
has been, esophageal damage; because previous erosions have
healed spontaneously and are not evident at the time of
endoscopy; or because the individual is taking, or has recently
taken, effective antireflux medication (9,32). Patients in the
first category may be considered to have ENRD, while those in
the other two categories should be considered to have erosive
esophagitis, even if it is not evident at the time of investiga-
tion. Unfortunately, it is not clear when pharmacological ther-
apy should be discontinued to ensure that a diagnosis of ENRD
is accurate. Although erosive esophagitis recurs rapidly in a
high proportion of patients after discontinuation of therapy,
20% to 30% may still be free of erosions for up to six months
(37,38). Patients with ENRD are, arguably, the most common
subgroup of GERD patients and their symptoms will often
respond to effective acid-suppressive therapy (39).
Because most patients with typical GERD symptoms
(heartburn and regurgitation) neither undergo, nor require,
investigation, one does not know whether they have erosive
esophagitis; furthermore, unless they have received effective
acid suppression therapy, one does not know whether their
symptoms are acid-related and, hence, likely to be attributable
to GERD. The term ‘heartburn-dominant, uninvestigated dys-
pepsia’ is, therefore, applicable to patients who present with
reflux-like symptoms (with or without other dyspeptic symp-
toms referable to the upper gastrointestinal tract) before they
undergo investigation or receive therapy. The Consensus group
felt that it was reasonable to diagnose heartburn-dominant
uninvestigated dyspepsia as GERD (encompassing both ENRD
and erosive esophagitis), and manage it accordingly. The
symptom-based approach to diagnosing GERD is a reasonable
strategy despite the fact that some patients may prove to have
been categorized incorrectly as having GERD on the grounds
that antireflux treatment is ineffective (39) or that endoscopy
reveals other lesions such as peptic ulceration (33).
The term ‘ENRD’ used in this document is synonymous
with the terms ‘nonerosive reflux disease’ and ‘symptomatic
GERD’ (40); all three terms are applicable to patients who
have typical reflux symptoms and a normal esophagus at
While heartburn and regurgitation are the dominant symp-
toms of GERD, they frequently coexist with other symptoms
such as epigastric pain, epigastric burning and nausea. Other
esophageal manifestations of GERD including chest pain and
dysphagia, and extraesophageal manifestations including
cough, sore throat, hoarseness, shortness of breath and wheez-
ing are less prevalent in GERD patients (41-43) and it is not
clear if some of these are ‘atypical’ GERD symptoms or ancil-
lary symptoms unrelated to GERD.
Statement 7*: GERD symptom severity, incorporating the fre-
quency, intensity and duration of symptoms, is defined by the
extent to which the sufferer indicates that it has an adverse effect
on his or her daily activities and HRQL (Level II-3, B; vote:
a 59%, b 32%, c 9%).
Statement 8*: GERD severity is determined by the severity and
frequency of the associated symptoms or by the presence and
extent of reflux-related lesions such as esophageal erosions, ulcers,
Armstrong et al
Can J Gastroenterol Vol 19 No 1 January 2005 18
hemorrhage, strictures or columnar metaplasia (Barrett’s epithelium)
(Level I, A; vote: a 76%, b 19%, c 0%, d 0%, e 5%).
Statement 9*: In the context of symptomatic management of
GERD, ‘mild disease’ is applicable to patients who have symptoms
that are infrequent (fewer than three times/week), of low intensity
and short duration, and that have minimal long-term effect on the
patient’s activities of daily living or HRQL. The terms ‘moderate
disease’ or ‘severe disease’ are applicable to patients who have more
frequent, intense or prolonged symptoms that have a significant
effect on the patient’s daily activities or HRQL (vote: a 55%,
The severity of GERD should be assessed with respect to the
impact of symptoms on an individual’s daily activities and
HRQL. The effect of GERD on HRQL is dependent primarily
on the severity of symptoms, which incorporates frequency,
intensity and duration. Impairment of HRQL is very similar for
patients with erosive esophagitis and those with ENRD
(3,5,31). However, more individuals with severe GERD symp-
toms report a loss of productivity compared with those with
mild symptoms (36). GERD can also be defined by the severity
of endoscopic findings (12), because severe erosive esophagitis
responds less well to antireflux treatment and relapses more
quickly than does mild esophagitis (44-47).
Statement 10*: In clinical practice, a diagnosis of GERD can be
made without investigation, based on the presence of the typical
symptom of heartburn, with or without regurgitation (Level II-1, A;
vote: a 59%, b 27%, c 9%, e 5%).
Statement 11*: A diagnosis of GERD can be made regardless of the
frequency or severity of the individual’s GERD-related symptoms
(Level II-2, A; vote: a 50%, b 27%, c 5%, d 14%, e 5%).
There is general consensus that patients with dominant symp-
toms of heartburn or regurgitation can be assigned a clinical
diagnosis of GERD and treated without the need for investiga-
tions (8,9,48). It has been difficult to document the predictive
value of symptoms because there is no accepted gold standard
for the diagnosis of GERD, although the use of latent class
analysis or Bayesian analysis to integrate the results of three or
more independent investigations may, in the future, provide an
acceptable gold standard (49). Although patients with heart-
burn and regurgitation who do not respond to standard antire-
flux therapy (39) may have functional heartburn rather than
GERD (50,51), the majority of the Consensus group felt that
heartburn-dominant uninvestigated dyspepsia or ENRD could
be treated, initially, as GERD. This approach is supported by
data from two surveys of primary care patients with uninvesti-
gated dyspepsia, which indicated that symptoms of epigastric
pain, heartburn and regurgitation cluster together, while bloat-
ing, belching and nausea form a distinct cluster (33,52).
Dominant symptoms of heartburn or acid regurgitation have a
high specificity (89% and 95%, respectively) but low sensitiv-
ity (38% and 6%) for GERD as defined by abnormal acid expo-
sure on 24 h pH monitoring (53). Using a questionnaire, the
presence of heartburn (defined as a “burning feeling in the
stomach or lower chest rising up to the neck”) had a sensitivity
of 73% and a specificity of 43% compared with abnormal 24 h
esophageal pH monitoring or erosive disease on endoscopy,
and was predictive of symptom resolution during treatment
with omeprazole 20 mg (54). However, pH monitoring or
endoscopy may be normal in GERD and may, therefore, under-
estimate the accuracy of symptoms for diagnosis (13). In fact,
24 h pH monitoring is no longer considered to be the gold
standard, because it lacks the high sensitivity previously
claimed, for the diagnosis of GERD (13). Overall, current
‘objective’ diagnostic tests for GERD are invasive, costly and
insufficiently reliable; furthermore, they are not readily avail-
able to most physicians in Canada.
In general, neither symptom severity nor frequency alone
constitutes a diagnostic criterion for GERD; for example,
reflux-related NCCP is consistent with a diagnosis of GERD
even if symptoms are infrequent. On the other hand, mild,
infrequent heartburn that does not affect quality of life is not,
on its own, considered to be sufficient for a definitive diagno-
sis of GERD.
It has been suggested that a symptomatic response to PPI
therapy can be used for the diagnosis of GERD. A PPI test (one
to two weeks of high-dose PPI therapy) has demonstrated a
sensitivity of 80%, a specificity of 57%, and positive and nega-
tive predictive values comparable with pH monitoring (55-57).
However, a PPI test has not been shown to be superior to a trial
of standard therapy (58). There was, therefore, consensus that
a short-term PPI test was unhelpful before initiating therapy
for typical reflux symptoms, because a ‘negative’ PPI test may
deprive many patients of the more prolonged four to eight
week course of therapy needed to relieve symptoms (58). A
PPI test has high sensitivity and specificity for identifying
patients with acid-related NCCP occurring at least three times
weekly (59,60), and the one-week test is cost-effective com-
pared with standard investigations (59,61).
Statement 12*: Alarm features in the presence of GERD symptoms
include vomiting, evidence of gastrointestinal tract blood loss, ane-
mia, involuntary weight loss, dysphagia or chest pain (Level III, A;
vote: a 68%, b 23%, c 5%, d 5%).
Statement 13: In patients with GERD, dysphagia should be investi-
gated if it does not completely resolve with adequate PPI therapy
(two to four weeks) (Level III, C; vote: a 70%, b 30%).
Statement 14: There is no age threshold (eg, 50 years) that is, by
itself, an indication for further investigation for GERD (Level II-2, B;
vote: a 91%, b 9%).
Recent guidelines for the management of dyspepsia and GERD
have identified alarm features, including persistent vomiting,
symptoms or signs of gastrointestinal bleeding, unexplained or
involuntary weight loss, dysphagia, choking (acid-induced
coughing, shortness of breath or hoarseness) and chest pain,
which require prompt investigation (8,9,48,62). This should
not be taken to imply that all patients with alarm features
require endoscopy; if chest pain is present, cardiac causes
should be excluded first and, even for patients with NCCP,
investigations other than endoscopy may be appropriate.
However, there are few Level I data on which to base these rec-
ommendations and there are even fewer data to indicate
whether they should always be considered as alarm features. A
history of dysphagia, for example, can often be elicited in
patients with erosive esophagitis and, if it is mild, it often
resolves with acid suppressive therapy (63). On the other
hand, if solid food dysphagia is the primary symptom, it should
Canadian Consensus on the management of GERD
Can J Gastroenterol Vol 19 No 1 January 200519
be considered an alarm feature suggesting peptic stenosis, stric-
ture, esophageal ring or web or esophageal malignancy, and
investigation should be expedited, particularly if the dysphagia
is progressive or if it does not respond within two to four weeks
to adequate PPI therapy.
Although the prevalence of esophageal cancer is higher in
individuals over 50 years of age, it is not high enough to justify
prompt investigation in all patients who present with GERD
symptoms (uninvestigated GERD or heartburn-dominant
uninvestigated dyspepsia) for the first time over the age of
50 years (33). Statement 14 is not intended to preclude inves-
tigation for Barrett’s esophagus in patients over the age of
50 years (see statements 52 to 58), it merely indicates that
patients with GERD symptoms should not require investiga-
tion solely because they are over the age of 50 years.
Statement 15*: Endoscopy is not required to make a diagnosis of
GERD (Level I, A; vote: a 91%, b 9%).
Statement 16: The role of endoscopy in patients with GERD symp-
toms is to investigate atypical or alarm features and to detect
Barrett’s esophagus (Level III, B; vote: a 100%).
Statement 17*: The severity of erosive esophagitis is determined
endoscopically by the presence and extent of reflux-related
‘mucosal breaks’ (erosions or ulcers) as defined by the Los
Angeles classification (Level I, A; vote: a 82%, b 14%, c 0%,
d 0%, e 5%).
Statement 18*: If a patient with GERD symptoms is to undergo
endoscopy in clinical practice, it is not generally necessary to dis-
continue antisecretory therapy before the procedure (Level II-3, B;
vote: a 68%, b 18%, c 5%, d 9%).
Statement 19*: Esophageal histology is not required to diagnose
GERD in a patient with typical symptoms (Level II-2, B; vote:
a 73%, b 27%).
Up to 70% of patients with symptoms of GERD have no endo-
scopic evidence of esophagitis and are considered to have
ENRD (5,30-33). Thus, although it is highly specific (greater
than 90%), endoscopy has lower sensitivity (40% to 60%)
(9,64) and is not essential for a diagnosis of GERD. Endoscopy
should not, therefore, be considered a prerequisite for any form
of pharmacological acid suppression therapy.
Endoscopy is indicated for the majority of patients who
present with alarm symptoms referable to the upper gastroin-
testinal tract (statement 12) (10); under these circumstances,
it is useful for the detection of GERD complications such as
ulceration, strictures, Barrett’s epithelium and esophageal
malignancy. The role of endoscopy in the investigation of
atypical symptoms is ill defined; it may reveal changes that
would support a diagnosis of GERD but a normal endoscopy
does not rule out GERD. If endoscopy is performed to identify
Barrett’s epithelium, the patient should be taking effective
antisecretory therapy because it can be difficult to distinguish
dysplasia from chronic inflammatory and regenerative
changes caused by esophageal injury (65). Erosive esophagitis
is best identified by endoscopy, although in clinical practice it
is generally unnecessary to differentiate between erosive
esophagitis and ENRD. However, in clinical trials in which it
is necessary to differentiate erosive esophagitis from ENRD,
acid suppression therapy is generally discontinued at least two
weeks before endoscopy, recognizing that the time to
esophagitis relapse may be much longer in many patients
(37,38,46,66). Although there are many endoscopic esophagi-
tis classification schemes, the consensus favoured the Los
Angeles system because of its extensive validation for grading
the endoscopic severity of erosive esophagitis and its wide-
spread use (Table 2) (10-12,67).
Mucosal biopsies are essential to confirm Barrett’s epithelium
and to detect dysplasia, but not to diagnose GERD if typical
mucosal breaks are present at endoscopy (68). Biopsies or
follow-up endoscopies are recommended for deeply ulcerated,
extensively eroded circumferential lesions or grossly irregular
lesions to distinguish inflammatory ulceration from an ulcerated
sessile malignancy. Biopsies are also indicated if a diagnosis
other than reflux disease (eg, eosinophilic esophagitis) is sus-
pected. The role of esophageal biopsy for the diagnosis of
GERD in ENRD patients with typical symptoms and a normal
endoscopy is uncertain. Recent studies (69,70) have confirmed
earlier histological findings of basal hyperplasia and papillary
elongation in GERD patients (71), and have also shown that
these abnormalities, as well as intercellular space dilation, tend
to diminish with PPI therapy (72-74), but histology remains
unproven as a means of diagnosing GERD. The role of a ‘once
in a lifetime’ endoscopic screening for Barrett’s epithelium is
discussed under the section on Barrett’s epithelium (statements
52 and 53).
Ambulatory pH monitoring
Statement 20*: In adult clinical practice, ambulatory esophageal
pH monitoring is indicated primarily for the investigation of atypical
or persistent symptoms despite appropriate therapy (Level II-1, B;
vote: a 77%, b 23%).
Ambulatory 24 h esophageal pH monitoring has generally
been considered the gold standard to detect ‘pathological’
reflux, with good sensitivity (77% to 100%) and specificity
(85% to 100%) in patients with endoscopic esophagitis
(13,75). However, it is less reliable for the diagnosis of ENRD
with reported sensitivities of 0% to 71%, and specificities of
85% to 100% (13,75) versus symptom-based diagnoses. It may
be used to quantify esophageal acid exposure but there is poor
correlation between measures of acid exposure (eg, time with
esophageal pH below 4.0; DeMeester score) and reflux-related
symptoms, esophageal sensitivity or response to acid suppres-
sive therapy. Furthermore, esophageal pH monitoring is
impractical in routine practice because it is expensive, cum-
bersome and not widely available. Esophageal pH monitoring
may be appropriate to document abnormal acid exposure in
patients with a normal endoscopy who are being considered for
surgery; to evaluate patients who are refractory to medical or
surgical antireflux therapy; to evaluate patients with atypical
GERD symptoms such as NCCP; or to evaluate possible
extraesophageal manifestations such as hoarseness, cough or
asthma (13). The use of a pH-sensitive telemetry capsule
affixed to the esophageal epithelium (Bravo, Medtronic, USA)
may improve patient tolerability but experience with this
device is limited and, because the capsule is not reusable, it
may prove to be too expensive for widespread use in Canada.
The role of monitoring bile reflux (bilirubin detector) or
nonacid reflux (esophageal impedance monitoring) in the
management of GERD remains unclear.
Armstrong et al
Can J Gastroenterol Vol 19 No 1 January 2005 20
The sensitivity and specificity of barium radiology are insuf-
ficiently high for it to be useful for the diagnosis or manage-
ment of GERD (76).
Statement 21*: Over-the-counter medications, including alginates,
antacids and low-dose H2RAs, are safe and effective for symptom
management in individuals with mild GERD symptoms (Level I, A;
vote: a 82%, b 18%).
Statement 22*: Lifestyle modifications, with or without over-the-
counter antacids or H2RAs, are not effective for the management of
frequent or severe GERD symptoms (Level II-2, A; vote: a 68%,
b 27%, c 5%).
Over-the-counter medications including alginates, antacids
and low-dose H2RAs are safe and effective for the manage-
ment of mild and infrequent GERD symptoms (statement 9) in
many individuals (9,77), but they have limited efficacy in
patients with more severe GERD, including erosive esophagi-
tis, complications or symptoms that reduce HRQL (8,9,78).
Although all patients should be educated about factors that
may worsen their GERD symptoms, lifestyle modifications
alone generally provide inadequate relief for most GERD
patients. There are few data on the efficacy of lifestyle modifi-
cations in patients with mild GERD, but clinical experience
suggests they may be beneficial if there are obvious dietary or
pharmacological precipitants, or if obesity, smoking or exces-
sive alcohol use is present.
Statement 23: PPIs are superior to H2RAs for the reduction of
heartburn and healing of esophagitis (Level 1, A; vote: a 100%).
Statement 24: The effectiveness of PPIs and H2RAs for the healing
of esophagitis is proportional to their ability to reduce intragastric
acidity (Level 1, A; vote: a 91%, b 9%).
Statement 25: Initial therapy for GERD symptoms should be a
once-daily PPI unless symptoms are mild and infrequent (fewer
than three times per week) (Level 1, A; vote: a 74%, b 26%).
Throughout the discussions on PPI therapy, standard PPI doses
were defined as the daily doses approved in Canada for healing
erosive esophagitis: esomeprazole 40 mg, lansoprazole 30 mg,
omeprazole 20 mg, pantoprazole 40 mg and rabeprazole 20 mg
(Table 3). A meta-analysis of treatment trials, derived from
43 articles in 7635 patients with erosive esophagitis, showed
that PPIs heal esophagitis more rapidly and in more patients
than do H2RAs, with overall (two- to 12-week) healing rates
of 83.6% (95% CI 79.1% to 88.1%) and 51.9% (95% CI 46.9%
to 56.9%), respectively, compared with placebo (28.2%;
95% CI 19.2% to 37.2%) (79). Similarly, a meta-analysis of
13 trials of empirical therapy in 3433 GERD patients and
2520 ENRD patients (39) indicated that PPIs were almost
twice as effective as H2RAs in the empirical treatment of
GERD and 20% more effective in the treatment of ENRD
(RR 0.55 [95% CI 0.44 to 0.68] and 0.81 [95% CI 0.70 to
0.95], respectively) (39).
GERD severity is related to the degree and duration of
esophageal acid exposure (80); the duration of esophageal acid
exposure (time during which intraesophageal pH is below 4.0)
correlates directly with the degree of mucosal injury (81-84)
and severity of symptoms (85). Treatments that prolong gastric
acid suppression (time during which gastric pH is over 4.0) are
associated with faster symptom relief and higher healing rates
(79,86,87). PPIs are significantly more effective than H2RAs
in achieving and sustaining an intragastric pH above 4.0
(80,88); they also produce greater healing and symptom relief
than do H2RAs in patients with confirmed GERD (79,89),
and greater symptom relief in patients with ENRD (39) or
uninvestigated heartburn-dominant dyspepsia (90). In most
studies, PPIs were compared with standard dose H2RAs but
double dose H2RAs were also less effective than standard dose
PPIs (Table 3) for healing erosive esophagitis (91,92), and dou-
ble dose ranitidine was ineffective in patients who had not pre-
viously responded to a six-week course of standard dose
In general, 24 h intragastric pH studies suggest that stan-
dard dose omeprazole, lansoprazole, pantoprazole and
rabeprazole are similar with respect to their effect on the
duration of the 24 h period during which gastric pH remains
above 4.0 (94-101). However, 24 h intragastric pH studies sug-
gest greater suppression of gastric acidity with esomeprazole
40 mg compared with lansoprazole 30 mg (102,103), omepra-
zole 20 mg (103,104) and 40 mg (105), pantoprazole 40 mg
(103,106) and rabeprazole 20 mg (102,103), although these
differences do not necessarily lead to a difference in esophageal
acid exposure (107). There also appears to be a dose-response
effect for some PPIs (108,109). Corresponding to the pH
results, the results of meta-analyses (89,110) suggest that stan-
dard dose omeprazole, lansoprazole, pantoprazole and rabepra-
zole are equivalent to each other with respect to healing
esophagitis. While these meta-analyses and the largest avail-
able randomized controlled studies suggest that esomeprazole
40 mg produces somewhat higher four- and eight-week healing
Canadian Consensus on the management of GERD
Can J Gastroenterol Vol 19 No 1 January 200521
The Los Angeles classification system for the endoscopic
assessment of esophagitis
A One or more mucosal breaks no longer than 5 mm, none of which
extends between the tops of the mucosal folds
BOne or more mucosal breaks more than 5 mm long, none of which
extends between the tops of two mucosal folds
C Mucosal breaks that extend between the tops of two or more mucosal
folds, but which involve less than 75% of the esophageal
D Mucosal breaks which involve at least 75% of the esophageal
Data from references 10-12
Standard once-daily doses of available proton pump
Proton pump inhibitor Daily dose
Esomeprazole (Nexium)*40 mg
Omeprazole (Losec)*20 mg
*AstraZeneca, Canada; †Abbott Laboratories, Canada; ‡Altana Pharma/
Solvay Pharma, Canada; §Janssen-Ortho, Canada. Optimal dosing is 30 min
to 60 min before breakfast or supper
rates than standard dose omeprazole (45,47,110), lansoprazole
(44) or pantoprazole (111), particularly in more severe (Los
Angeles grades C and D) erosive esophagitis, overall differences
in healing proportions at eight weeks are small, ranging from just
over 3% (44,111) to just over 6% (45,47). Furthermore, although
the differences are statistically significant, their clinical relevance
is debated and the results have not been replicated consistently
in other studies (112).
The proportion of patients reporting symptom relief is
somewhat lower for those with ENRD than for those with ero-
sive esophagitis (113); furthermore, higher PPI doses do not
appear to elicit a greater response in ENRD (114,115).
The Consensus group made no recommendations with
respect to the choice of PPI for initial or long-term therapy,
noting that factors such as cost and availability were also
important considerations. However, there was agreement that
the clear superiority of the PPIs over H2RAs (with absolute
differences in healing rates of 30% to 40%) was sufficient to
support the use of PPIs as initial therapy for all patients in
whom symptoms have a significant impact on quality of life. In
a study comparing step-up and step-down treatment strategies,
initial PPI therapy provided faster symptom relief than initial
H2RA therapy, and continued PPI therapy provided better
heartburn relief than step-down to an H2RA, while step-up to
a PPI provided better heartburn relief than continued H2RA
therapy (116). Given the excellent safety profile of PPIs and
their superior efficacy, there is generally no justification, other
than cost or intolerance to PPIs, to use an H2RA as initial
therapy for GERD unless the patient’s symptoms are mild or
infrequent (see Economics section).
Statement 26*: The symptomatic response to an initial course of
antisecretory therapy should be assessed at four to eight weeks
(Level II-1, B; vote: a 77%, b 23%).
An adequate course of therapy is at least four to eight weeks. In
a study comparing one-week courses of once-daily or twice-daily
PPI therapy (PPI test, statements 10, 11) with a four-week
standard dose course, the response at one week was highly pre-
dictive (positive predictive values 96.1% and 96.3%, respec-
tively) of a good outcome at four weeks, but negative
predictive values were low (28.3% and 32.7%, respectively)
and almost 15% of patients who did not respond at one week
did respond at four weeks (58). Further improvement in
response rates was also seen as acid suppression therapy
extended from four weeks to eight weeks in patients with erosive
esophagitis (healing rates 66% to 81% and 75% to 95%, at four
and eight weeks, respectively) (79,89,110,111,117), and the
proportion of patients achieving complete resolution of heart-
burn-dominant uninvestigated dyspepsia increased progres-
sively from four to 16 weeks (90). Clinical assessment of
symptoms and quality of life at four to eight weeks is adequate
for routine follow-up; endoscopy may be considered but, in
general, only for patients with symptoms refractory to PPI ther-
apy or those who develop new or worsening symptoms while
on therapy. Failure to respond at eight weeks is not necessarily
an indication for specialist referral or endoscopy, because the
proportion of responders may increase after this time.
Statement 27: Twice-daily PPI therapy is not generally required as
initial therapy for typical GERD symptoms (Level 1, A; vote:
Statement 28: Twice-daily, standard dose PPI therapy may be used
for patients who have severe symptoms despite standard once-daily
PPI therapy (Level II-3, B; vote: a 91%, b 9%).
Statement 29: Twice-daily, standard dose PPI therapy may be used
for patients who have severe esophagitis (LA Grade C or D, or
stricture) (Level I, B; vote: a 96%, b 4%).
There are few data documenting an increase in healing or
symptom relief for double-dose PPI therapy compared with
standard dose therapy (Table 3) in patients with typical GERD
(118,119); however, reports that, for example, double dose
pantoprazole (80 mg) was comparable with single dose panto-
prazole (40 mg) have not generally been powered to detect dif-
ferences of less than 10% between treatment arms (117).
Similarly, symptom response rates at one week for patients
with uninvestigated dyspepsia, including heartburn-dominant
symptoms, were comparable for esomeprazole 40 mg once daily
and esomeprazole 40 mg twice daily (58). Half dose PPI therapy
(eg, esomeprazole 20 mg, lansoprazole 15 mg, omeprazole
10 mg, pantoprazole 20 mg or rabeprazole 10 mg daily) is less
effective than standard dose therapy for acute treatment in
erosive esophagitis and ENRD (32,114,120-122) and is not
generally recommended for initial therapy.
Conversely, doubling the dose of a PPI reduced esophageal
acid exposure in patients in whom single dose therapy was
not adequate (100,123). In patients with complicated or
atypical GERD, esophageal acid exposure was normalized in
all patients with lansoprazole but, of those, 35% required a
double daily dose (60 mg) (100). In a similar study, persist-
ently abnormal reflux at esophageal pH monitoring was seen
in 29% of patients receiving lansoprazole 30 mg once daily
and 68% of those receiving omeprazole 20 mg once daily, but
was normalized in all patients after doubling the respective
PPI doses (123). Data from pH studies support splitting the
double dose and administering it twice daily, before breakfast
and supper, rather than once daily (124-126). There is little
clinical evidence to support the use of double dose or twice-
daily PPI therapy for initial therapy (58). However, several
trials have shown that a proportion of patients who had not
responded to standard dose PPI therapy experienced symptom
relief with double dose PPI or a longer duration of therapy
Twice daily, standard dose, PPI therapy is used in patients
with NCCP or extraesophageal manifestations of GERD but
these data were not reviewed formally by the Consensus
Statement 30*: Prokinetic or promotility agents are not recom-
mended, either alone or in conjunction with antisecretory agents, for
the routine initial treatment of GERD (Level II-1, C; vote: a 95%,
A systematic review considered cisapride to be effective for
mild-to-moderate GERD in adults (128) but not for GERD in
children (129). As empirical therapy for GERD, cisapride was
not superior to placebo, and for ENRD, PPIs were superior to
cisapride (130). However, concerns about the methodological
quality and publication bias have been raised (79,129), and
cisapride is no longer generally available. Domperidone pro-
duced little or no symptomatic improvement compared with
placebo (131-133); in small studies, metoclopramide was more
effective than placebo (134) but less effective than ranitidine
Armstrong et al
Can J Gastroenterol Vol 19 No 1 January 200522
There are very few data on the efficacy of supplementary
prokinetics in conjunction with PPI therapy; the addition of
cisapride to standard dose PPI therapy did not result in signifi-
cant increases in healing rates or symptom relief after either
four or eight weeks of treatment (137,138), and the combina-
tion of domperidone plus ranitidine showed no benefit over
ranitidine alone (139). Omeprazole is twice as effective as the
combination of ranitidine plus metoclopramide or ranitidine
alone for symptom improvement and healing (140-142), with
no significant differences between ranitidine and the combina-
tion group (140). In addition, metoclopramide is associated
with substantial side effects compared with standard antisecre-
tory therapy, which limits its use (140,142-144).
Statement 31*: ‘Continuous’ medical maintenance therapy is
defined as the daily intake of a medication for an indefinite period to
prevent or minimize recurrent reflux-related symptoms or injury to
the esophagus (vote: a 91%, b 9%).
Statement 32*: ‘Intermittent’ medical maintenance therapy is
defined as the daily intake of a medication for a predetermined, finite
period (usually two to eight weeks) to produce resolution of reflux-
related symptoms or healing of esophageal lesions following relapse
of the individual’s condition (vote: a 86%, b 9%, c 5%).
Statement 33*: ‘On-demand’ medical therapy is defined as the daily
intake of a medication for a period sufficient to achieve resolution of
the individual’s reflux-related symptoms; following symptom resolu-
tion, the medication is discontinued until the individual’s symptoms
recur, at which point, medication is again taken daily until the
symptoms resolve (vote: a 86%, b 14%).
Although there are no standardized definitions of continuous,
intermittent and on-demand (21,145-150) therapy, the above
definitions are consistent with those used in many clinical trials
and may be appropriate for interpretation of their results, and
the development of future clinical studies. It may be argued that
intermittent therapy is a ‘physician-driven’ strategy, whereas
on-demand therapy is ‘patient driven’. Although clinical expe-
rience suggests that many patients take their medication pro-
phylactically to prevent the occurrence of reflux symptoms, this
pattern of usage is not included explicitly in the definition of on
demand therapy used for clinical studies.
Statement 34*: The prime aim of long-term GERD therapy is symp-
tom abolition or control sufficient to normalize the individual’s HRQL
(Level III, A; vote: a 82%, b 14%, c 5%).
The primary aim of long-term management of patients with
GERD is the control of symptoms and improvement of quality of
life (149,151). Because the risk of recurrent endoscopic erosions
is extremely high without maintenance therapy (149,152-154),
long-term therapy is recommended for erosive esophagitis with
the aim of preventing recurrent esophageal injury or mucosal
breaks, in addition to complications such as stricture (155-159),
hemorrhage, ulceration or Barrett’s epithelium. However, the
group recognized the lack of evidence that PPI therapy prevents
the development or progression of Barrett’s epithelium.
Statement 35: An individual whose reflux symptoms have responded
well to standard dose PPI therapy may discontinue medication to con-
firm the need for ongoing therapy (Level II-3, C; vote a 83%, b 17%).
Statement 36*: Long-term maintenance therapy should be given at
the lowest dose and frequency that is sufficient to achieve optimal
control of the patient’s symptoms (Level III, B; vote: a 71%,
b 10%, c 10%, d 5%, e 5%).
Statement 37: On-demand acid suppression therapy is a reason-
able long-term medical strategy for selected patients with GERD
(Level I, B; vote a 55%, b 45%).
Some patients will not require continuous, daily, standard dose
therapy for long-term management, but most patients will
require some form of maintenance therapy. After discontinua-
tion of therapy, 70% to 100% of patients with esophagitis
(37,38,160,161) and approximately 75% of patients with
ENRD (31) will relapse within six months.
Half dose PPI therapy is sufficient to maintain endoscopic
remission in about 35% to 95% of patients with erosive
esophagitis (37,38,46,66,160-163). Similarly, half dose, on-
demand PPI therapy produces acceptable symptom control in
83% to 92% of ENRD patients (21,146,148) who have
responded previously to acute PPI therapy; however, half dose
omeprazole (10 mg daily) is less effective than standard dose
omeprazole (20 mg daily) (146), although half dose esomepra-
zole (20 mg daily) was comparable with standard dose
esomeprazole (40 mg daily) (21,146). Although most patients
with more severe symptoms or esophagitis require ongoing daily,
standard dose therapy to maintain healing and symptom relief
(160,164), it was agreed that patients should be maintained on
the lowest dose of therapy which was sufficient to provide ade-
quate symptom relief. This presupposes that patients’ symptom
status will be reviewed to ensure that symptom control is ade-
quate from the patient’s standpoint. On-demand therapy may
be acceptable because esophagitis recurrence, in the absence of
symptoms, occurs in fewer than 9% of patients (160).
However, because the majority of studies have been conducted
in ENRD patients, there are insufficient data to recommend
on-demand maintenance therapy for patients with erosive
There appears to be a dose-response relationship for each of
the PPIs (Table 3) in maintenance therapy for erosive
esophagitis, presumably related to the degree of acid suppres-
sion produced by each treatment regimen. However, the dose-
response relationship is less evident for ENRD partly, perhaps,
because of difficulty in defining adequate symptom control and
partly because there seems to be a ceiling effect such that high-
er degrees of acid suppression do not appear to be more effec-
tive after four weeks of therapy.
Standard dose PPIs are superior to full dose and half dose
H2RAs for maintaining remission of erosive esophagitis (160).
Although some studies suggest that, for maintenance therapy,
half dose PPIs are equivalent to standard dose PPIs for erosive
esophagitis (37,38,66,162,163,165-167) and ENRD (21,148),
others indicate higher remission rates with standard dose PPIs
than with half or lower dose PPIs both for erosive esophagitis
(37,38,160,161,168-170) and ENRD (146). In a large study
comparing two half dose therapies, esomeprazole 20 mg daily
was superior to lansoprazole 15 mg daily in preventing recur-
rent esophagitis (46). Although on-demand therapy is effec-
tive in ENRD patients, the role of ‘alternate day’ or ‘weekend’
therapy in erosive esophagitis is unclear. Omeprazole (20 mg
for three days/week or 20 mg on weekends) was inadequate for
maintaining endoscopic remission compared with daily
omeprazole 20 mg (150,160); lansoprazole 30 mg on alternate
Canadian Consensus on the management of GERD
Can J Gastroenterol Vol 19 No 1 January 200523
days was less effective than lansoprazole 15 mg daily for main-
taining symptom relief although it was equally effective for
maintaining healing (167). Overall, half dose PPI therapy is
effective for some patients but a proportion will require full
dose, or higher-dose maintenance PPI therapy (127,171); this
has primarily been documented for erosive esophagitis rather
than ENRD. Noncontinuous PPI therapy is effective for
ENRD but its role in erosive esophagitis remains uncertain.
Statement 38*: Long-term PPI therapy has not been associated with
any clinically significant adverse events (Level II-2, A, vote:
a 73%, b 27%).
Long-term PPI use is supported by experience of millions of
patient-years of therapy, and a review of omeprazole use for
up to 11 years confirmed the safety of PPIs on the gastric
mucosa (172,173). Similarly, long-term data from one to five
years of use support the safety of esomeprazole (174), lanso-
prazole (175,176), pantoprazole (162,177,178) and rabepra-
zole (179). Current evidence suggests that prolonged gastric
acid suppression with PPIs rarely, if ever, produces adverse
events or clinically significant drug interactions (174,180-
182). Diarrhea, abdominal pain, flatulence, headache, eruc-
tation, nausea and rash may be reported in a minority of
patients (47,174,183-186). The absorption of fats and miner-
als does not appear to be significantly impaired, and although
serum vitamin B12concentrations may be decreased with
prolonged use of high dose PPI therapy (eg, Zollinger-Ellison
syndrome) (180), there have been no reports of significant clini-
cal sequelae. Concerns over hypergastrinemia, enterochromaffin-
like cell hyperplasia and carcinoid formation have not been
substantiated during more than 15 years of widespread PPI
use in humans (88,152).
Statement 39*: Prokinetic or promotility agents are not recom-
mended, either alone or in conjunction with antisecretory agents,
for the routine long-term treatment of GERD (Level I, A; vote:
a 86%, b 14%).
Maintenance therapy with cisapride has demonstrated efficacy
(137,187) but cisapride is no longer generally available and
there are insufficient data to support the use of other prokinetics
for maintenance monotherapy. The addition of a prokinetic to
PPI maintenance therapy produced no significant added bene-
fit compared with PPI monotherapy (188). There are insuffi-
cient published data to make recommendations on the efficacy
of other currently available prokinetic agents (128,189-192).
Statement 40*: Supplementary nighttime H2RA therapy is not gen-
erally recommended for individuals who have responded incompletely
or have failed to respond to standard dose or double dose PPI therapy
of adequate duration (Level I, A; vote: a 77%, b 23%).
‘Nocturnal acid breakthrough’ has been defined as nighttime
periods with gastric pH less than 4.0 lasting for longer than
1 h during twice-daily PPI therapy (193), but there are no
data to show that this is clinically significant or that suppres-
sion of nocturnal acid breakthrough is beneficial (194,195).
Although the addition of an H2RA at bedtime to PPI treat-
ment can reduce gastric nocturnal acid breakthrough (196-
198), there is no evidence that this improves symptoms or
quality of life in GERD patients. An evening dose of omepra-
zole was more effective than a bedtime dose of ranitidine at
controlling intragastric pH in healthy volunteers (199); fur-
thermore, tolerance to the nocturnal acid suppressing effects
of an H2RA developed by one week (197).The addition of
night time ranitidine in patients with GERD receiving twice-
daily omeprazole increased intragastric pH, but there was no
significant improvement in reflux events compared with
Statement 41: Surgical antireflux therapy is an alternative to med-
ical therapy for the long-term management of selected patients with
GERD (Level I, A; vote a 65%, b 35%).
Although surgery is effective, it shows little long-term advan-
tage over medical therapy and may not eliminate the need for
medication in many cases. In a randomized trial, antireflux sur-
gery was superior to PPI therapy in terms of symptomatic
relapse, but if patients increased the PPI dose at relapse, there
was no significant difference between the treatment strategies
at three and five years of follow-up (127,171). Furthermore, in
this study, the costs for medical therapy were significantly less
than those for surgical therapy at five years (200). In an earlier
study (201), antireflux surgery was superior to what was then
optimal medical therapy (H2RA with antacids or metoclo-
pramide, as needed) in improving symptoms and esophagitis
for up to two years. However, in a long-term follow-up (median
10 years), 92% of patients in the medical therapy group and
62% of those in the surgery groups were using antireflux med-
ications regularly (202).
Potential indications for antireflux surgery, for patients with
typical GERD manifestations, include regurgitation-dominant
or volume-related reflux symptoms (although there is no
proven superiority for surgery for this indication), dissatisfac-
tion with a need for long-term PPI therapy (whether at stable
or increasing doses), poor compliance (for example, due to
medication costs) and the presence of a large hiatus hernia. If
patients are considering antireflux surgery, they should be
aware of its limitations, including the possibility of relapse
necessitating repeat surgery or resumption of medical therapy,
and the absence of documented benefit in preventing Barrett’s
epithelium and esophageal adenocarcinoma. Furthermore, it is
important to note that factors predictive of a poor outcome fol-
lowing antireflux surgery include a prior lack of response to PPI
therapy (203,204). In large case series, the incidence of serious,
fatal or life-threatening complications has been less than 1%
(205,206). Transient (less than two months) postoperative
dysphagia occurs in up to 20% of patients, and longer term dys-
phagia requiring dilation has been reported in 4% to 9% of
patients undergoing antireflux surgery (207,208). The group
felt that antireflux surgery is appropriate only at centres where
the procedure is performed regularly because the outcome is
highly dependent on the experience and skill of the surgeon
and support services (209,210). The development of minimal
access, laparoscopic techniques has led, in many centres, to
increased rates of antireflux surgery but both open and laparo-
scopic techniques continue to be used. A recent structured
review and meta-analysis concluded that laparoscopic fundopli-
cation is as effective as open surgery but with lower morbidity
rates and more rapid recovery and discharge from hospital (211).
Statement 42: The role of endoscopic antireflux procedures for the
management of GERD in clinical practice has not been adequately
defined (Level II-3, D [ie, fair evidence that this procedure should
not be used]; vote: a 87%, b 9%, c 4%).
Long-term data on the use of endoscopic techniques and
devices are not yet available. Most endoscopic techniques are
Armstrong et al
Can J Gastroenterol Vol 19 No 1 January 200524
intended to increase lower esophageal sphincter pressure or
reduce transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxations,
thereby decreasing acid reflux. Studies assessing a radiofre-
quency device (Stretta, Curon Medical, USA), transoral,
flexible endoscopic suturing (EndoCinch Suturing System,
Bard Endoscopic Technologies, USA), and implantation of
polymethylmethacrylate beads (Gatekeeper Reflux Repair
System, Medtronic, USA) or a nonabsorbed biocompatible
polymer (Enteryx, Boston Scientific, USA) have reported
reduced symptoms, medication use and esophageal acid
exposure at six to 12 months in some patients with uncom-
plicated GERD (212-222). However, the improvements in
acid exposure were limited, and published trials have only
entered patients with mild to moderate GERD; thus, the out-
comes of endoscopic therapy cannot be directly compared
with those of surgery or standard medical therapy. The
Consensus group felt there were currently insufficient pub-
lished data comparing endoscopic techniques to standard
medical or surgical therapy (153) to recommend the routine
use of endoscopic antireflux therapy outside the context of a
controlled clinical trial.
HELICOBACTER PYLORI INFECTION
Statement 43*: Testing for Helicobacter pylori infection is not
necessary before starting treatment for typical symptoms of GERD
(Level I, B; vote: a 82%, b 9%, c 9%).
Statement 44*: The presence of erosive esophagitis at endoscopy
does not preclude testing for H pylori (Level II-2, A; vote: a 64%,
b 32%, c 5%).
H pylori infection potentiates the acid suppressive effects of
PPIs, and patients who are positive for H pylori have a higher
intragastric pH than those who are negative (223,224).
Furthermore, there is some evidence that GERD healing and
symptom relief rates with PPI therapy are higher in H pylori-
positive than in H pylori-negative patients (225,226).
Because there is no evidence that H pylori infection plays a
causative role in the pathogenesis of GERD, there is no need
for eradication before treating GERD symptoms. This is con-
sistent with published guidelines for the management of
uninvestigated dyspepsia, which recommend empiric therapy
for typical GERD symptoms before H pylori testing is consid-
On the other hand, H pylori is a class I carcinogen (227)
and its eradication improves gastritis in H pylori-positive
patients with GERD (228). In addition, eradication does not
appear to alter the therapeutic dose of omeprazole or cause an
increase in reflux symptoms (228). Several studies have also
demonstrated that H pylori eradication in patients with reflux-
like uninvestigated dyspepsia is associated with a reduction in
symptoms including heartburn (229-231). In a one-year follow-up
study, H pylori eradication did not seem to influence relapse
rates in patients with GERD (232). Although there is consid-
erable controversy in the literature regarding the effect of
H pylori eradication on development of GERD (228,232-236),
there is no clear consensus that the reported increase in GERD
prevalence is causally related to the reduced prevalence of
H pylori infection in the western world (237,238). Thus, there
appears to be no reason why gastric biopsies should not be taken
to test for H pylori infection if erosive esophagitis is diagnosed
Statement 45: It is not necessary to test routinely for H pylori in a
patient taking long-term PPI therapy for GERD symptoms (Level II-3,
C; vote: a 74%, b 26%).
Statement 46: Eradication of H pylori has no clinically relevant,
adverse effect on the long-term outcome of GERD (Level I, A;
vote a 87%, b 13%).
Overall, it appears doubtful that H pylori infection has any
effect on the pathogenic mechanisms determining either reflux
or its complications (239). Omeprazole therapy in patients
who are H pylori-positive led to an increase in corpus gastritis,
which was reversed by eradication of H pylori (228,240); how-
ever, in a later study, acid suppressive therapy for three years
did not increase gastric glandular atrophy or intestinal meta-
plasia in H pylori-infected GERD patients (241). H pylori infec-
tion causes gastritis, regardless of whether there is concomitant
acid suppression therapy; although atrophic gastritis is a risk
factor for the development of intestinal metaplasia and gastric
cancer, there is no evidence to suggest that PPI therapy is an
additional risk factor or that H pylori eradication affects the
risk of gastric cancer in the presence of PPI therapy. Thus, it
was not considered necessary to routinely test for H pylori in
GERD patients receiving chronic PPI therapy; however, in
accordance with the recommendations of the Canadian
H pylori Study Group, patients with a documented H pylori
infection should be offered eradication therapy (242) and
there is no reason to deny eradication therapy to patients
requiring long-term GERD therapy.
Statement 47*: The presence and extent of reflux-related columnar
metaplasia in the distal esophagus should be recorded in a standard-
ized manner as ‘endoscopic suspicion of Barrett’s epithelium’; a for-
mal diagnosis of ‘Barrett’s epithelium’ requires histological
confirmation (Level III, B; vote: a 64%, b 36%).
Statement 48*: Barrett’s epithelium is defined as the presence of
abnormal epithelium (‘endoscopic suspicion of Barrett’s epithelium’),
of any extent, extending proximally beyond the limit of the gastroe-
sophageal junction, that demonstrates specialized intestinal metapla-
sia (‘esophageal columnar epithelium; intestinal metaplasia
positive’) on histological examination of the endoscopic biopsies
(vote: a 68%, b 27%, d 5%).
This definition of Barrett’s epithelium is comparable with that
used in many clinical studies; however, there is no general
agreement on a formal definition. The American College of
Gastroenterology defined Barrett’s esophagus as “a change in
the esophageal epithelium of any length that can be recognized
at endoscopy and is confirmed to have intestinal metaplasia by
biopsy of the tubular esophagus and excludes intestinal meta-
plasia of the cardia” (243). A change extending less than 3 cm
is referred to as short segment Barrett’s esophagus while 3 cm
or greater is referred to as long segment Barrett’s esophagus.
The gastroesophageal junction refers to the most proximal
extent of the gastric mucosal folds when the stomach is
deflated and the esophagus is minimally distended. The true
prevalence of Barrett’s epithelium is not known, in part
because of differences in the diagnostic criteria for Barrett’s
esophagus. Population-based studies have reported a preva-
lence of 23/100,000 to 376/100,000 individuals (244,245) but,
Canadian Consensus on the management of GERD
Can J Gastroenterol Vol 19 No 1 January 200525
among symptomatic patients with GERD, the rate of Barrett’s
epithelium is higher, at an estimated 2% to 18% (29,246,247).
Among patients in whom Barrett’s epithelium was found dur-
ing endoscopy for GERD symptoms, short segment Barrett’s
epithelium (6% to 10%) was more common than classical
Barrett’s epithelium (5%) (247). In Canadian, predominantly
white patients with uninvestigated dyspepsia, Barrett’s esopha-
gus was confirmed in 2.4% of patients overall, including 4.1%
in the group with dominant symptoms of heartburn and 1.4%
in the remaining patients (33).
Risk of esophageal cancer
Statement 49: Barrett’s epithelium is associated with the development
of esophageal adenocarcinoma (Level II-3, B; vote: a 96%, b 4%).
It is postulated that gastroesophageal reflux leads to metaplasia
such that the normal esophageal squamous epithelium changes
to a specialized intestinal glandular epithelium in a small pro-
portion of GERD patients, and that this may then progress, by
way of dysplasia (low and high grade) to esophageal adenocar-
Older studies suggested that the annual risk of adenocarci-
noma in Barrett’s esophagus was 1% to 2%, but a recent analy-
sis suggested that this is an overestimate due to publication
bias of smaller studies showing higher risks (250). More recent
studies suggest that the risk of adenocarcinoma is approximately
0.4% per person-year of follow-up in patients with Barrett’s
epithelium (202,251-255) compared with only 0.07% per year
in patients who do not have Barrett’s epithelium (202).
Statement 50: The risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma increases
with the severity, frequency and duration of GERD symptoms
(Level II-2, A; vote: a 95%, b 0%, c 0%, d 5%).
Patients with a long duration of GERD, especially white males
with more severe and frequent reflux symptoms, have a higher
risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma (256-261). For example,
compared with subjects who had no symptoms, the odds ratios
for developing esophageal adenocarcinoma were 7.7 in
patients with recurrent reflux symptoms and 43.5 in those with
long-standing (greater than 20 years), frequent, severe symp-
Risk factors for the development of adenocarcinoma in
patients with Barrett’s epithelium include: white, male, longer
duration, severity and frequency of GERD, size of hiatal her-
nia, obesity, smoking, diet low in fresh fruit, dysplasia (247)
and, possibly, the length of esophagus involved by Barrett’s
epithelium (247). However, many patients with esophageal
adenocarcinoma have no identifiable risk factors and no prior
diagnosis or symptoms of GERD.
Statement 51*: Neither medical nor surgical therapy has been
proven to prevent the development or progression of Barrett’s epithe-
lium or the subsequent development of esophageal adenocarcinoma
(Level I, D [ie, fair evidence that these strategies should not be used
for prevention]; vote: a 82%, b 9%, c 5%, d 5%).
The goals of therapy in patients with Barrett’s epithelium
include symptom control, maintenance of mucosal healing,
regression of Barrett’s epithelium, and regression of dysplasia.
Management includes acid suppressive medication, ablative
therapies or surgery. Four randomized controlled trials have
assessed acid suppressive therapy with a PPI, H2RA or antire-
flux surgery in patients with Barrett’s epithelium (202,262-
264). Acid suppression was associated with symptom control
but not with disappearance of Barrett’s epithelium despite
some reports of regression. Antireflux surgery did not prevent
progression, with dysplasia developing in 10.5% and adenocar-
cinoma in 2.5% of 161 patients seven to 21 years postopera-
tively (265). In two long-term studies, there was no difference
in the rate of development of esophageal adenocarcinoma
between patients receiving medical or surgical antireflux ther-
apy (202,264). No study has demonstrated a reduction in
esophageal adenocarcinoma rates with medical or surgical acid
suppression (266). The theoretical potential for benefit from
surgery with respect to prevention of malignancy may be out-
weighed by the operative risks (267), while there are no docu-
mented risks to long-term medical therapy with a PPI. For the
role of endoscopic ablative therapies in treating established
Barrett’s epithelium, see statement 61.
Statement 52: Endoscopic screening for Barrett’s esophagus in
patients with longstanding GERD has not been shown to reduce
mortality from esophageal adenocarcinoma (Level III, C; vote:
a 39%, b 44%, c 9%, d 4%, e 4%).
Statement 53: Endoscopy to detect Barrett’s esophagus with dyspla-
sia may be considered in adults with GERD symptoms for more
than 10 years (Level III, C; vote: a 96%, b 4%).
Although screening for Barrett’s epithelium is controversial,
guidelines from the American College of Gastroenterology
recommend a ‘once in a lifetime’ gastroscopy for the detection
of Barrett’s epithelium in patients with chronic GERD symp-
toms (243). In a recent survey, this strategy was favoured by
76% of Canadian gastroenterologists (268), although it should
be noted that this is associated with a high cost and unproven
benefit. The rationale for screening patients with chronic
GERD is that a long duration of GERD, especially in white
males with more severe and frequent GERD, confers an
increased risk of Barrett’s epithelium and adenocarcinoma
(256,257). Other risk factors, including nocturnal reflux symp-
toms, GERD complications (esophagitis, ulceration, bleeding)
and hiatus hernia might also influence the need for screening
(247). However, it was estimated that the risk of esophageal
adenocarcinoma (0.00065/patient/year) would be lower than
the risk of endoscopic complications, based on American pop-
ulation data (77 million adults over 50 years old in the USA,
of whom 14% or 10 million had weekly GERD symptoms)
(269). In addition, because 40% of patients with esophageal
adenocarcinoma do not have weekly reflux symptoms, they
would not be identified by a symptom-based surveillance strat-
egy. Although there was support for endoscopy in patients with
GERD symptoms for more than 10 years, it was also noted that
esophageal adenocarcinoma is very uncommon in patients
younger than 50 years of age and therefore, the benefit of a
screening endoscopy in such patients remains unproven.
Although many patients with Barrett’s epithelium are
asymptomatic, general population screening was not recom-
mended. However, patients undergoing endoscopy for any rea-
son should be examined for Barrett’s epithelium with
confirmatory biopsies if there is endoscopic suspicion of
The group noted that any screening or surveillance program
for Barrett’s epithelium would have important implications for
health care delivery because of the high cost (CDN$300 for
Armstrong et al
Can J Gastroenterol Vol 19 No 1 January 200526
endoscopy alone  to CDN$530 for endoscopy and biop-
sies ) and limited availability of endoscopy in Canada,
and the potentially high costs of the programs themselves
(272,273). Furthermore, there is no indication for screening
and surveillance in patients who are ineligible, a priori, for
esophagectomy or ablative therapy because of age or signifi-
Statement 54*: Endoscopic surveillance in patients with Barrett’s
epithelium should include a standard biopsy protocol and should be
performed while the patient continues to take therapy sufficient to
optimize symptom relief (Level III, C; vote: a 64%, b 14%,
c 18%, d 5%).
Statement 55: Patients with Barrett’s epithelium and dysplasia
should generally undergo surveillance (Level III, C; vote: a 83%,
Statement 56: In the presence of low-grade dysplasia, surveillance
endoscopy should be repeated within 12 months with a concentrated
biopsy protocol and repeated annually until there is no dysplasia
(Level II-3, B; vote: a 65%, b 35%).
Statement 57: Patients with Barrett’s epithelium in the absence of
dysplasia should generally undergo surveillance (Level III, C; vote:
a 13%, b 48%, c 4%, d 35%).
Statement 58: For patients with Barrett’s epithelium, in the absence
of dysplasia, enrolled in a surveillance program, endoscopy should
be repeated every two to five years (Level III, C; vote: a 4%,
b 65%, c 4%, d 26%).
Surveillance is recommended in patients with Barrett’s epithe-
lium and dysplasia, because dysplasia (graded as absent, indefi-
nite, low- or high-grade) is a risk factor for esophageal
adenocarcinoma. The risk of progression to cancer is greater
with high-grade than with low-grade dysplasia (274).
Unfortunately, there is significant interobserver variability in
the grading of dysplasia, with less than 50% agreement in the
classification of low-grade dysplasia (274). The risk of progres-
sion from low to high-grade dysplasia or cancer ranges from
10% to 28% over five years (274), and estimates of progression
from high-grade dysplasia to cancer range from 16% to 59%
over five to seven years (249,275,276). Endoscopy should be
performed while the patient continues to take effective antise-
cretory therapy to minimize the impact of inflammation and
regeneration on the interpretation of biopsy specimens (65).
Surveillance in patients with Barrett’s epithelium without
dysplasia is more controversial. Barrett’s epithelium is the only
endoscopically identifiable precursor to esophageal adenocar-
cinoma, a cancer that is increasing in prevalence in Western
societies and has a very poor prognosis if not detected early.
There is limited evidence that surveillance programs may lead
to earlier cancer detection and improved survival (277-279),
and retrospective analyses suggest that patients undergoing
surveillance had better two-year (86% versus 43%) (280) and
five-year (62% versus 20%) (279) survival rates for esophageal
cancer than those who did not undergo surveillance.
However, there are also strong arguments against surveil-
lance. There is a low absolute incidence of esophageal cancer in
Canada of 4.06/100,000 (281), and the benefits of surveillance
are not clearly defined as they are in colon cancer. Surveillance
endoscopy is expensive and time-consuming. About 93% to
98% of esophageal adenocarcinomata occur in patients with-
out a prior diagnosis of Barrett’s epithelium (247,282). Analysis
of patients with esophageal adenocarcinoma in Denmark over a
20-year period found that Barrett’s esophagus was diagnosed
more than one year before the cancer diagnosis in only 1.3% of
cases (282). Finally, it has been suggested that surveillance
may be of marginal benefit because most patients with Barrett’s
epithelium do not die from esophageal cancer (283). During a
nine-year follow-up of 166 patients with Barrett’s epithelium,
only eight patients developed esophageal cancer, which was
the cause of death in only two cases (283).
Recommendations for the frequency of surveillance are
based largely on cost-effectiveness modelling studies. Using
an estimated cancer rate of 0.4% per year, Provenzale et al
(251) estimated the costs of surveillance every one to five
years compared with no surveillance, with esophagectomy
performed if high-grade dysplasia was diagnosed. Based on
incremental cost-utility ratios, surveillance every five years
was the only economically viable strategy in the USA. More
frequent surveillance cost more and yielded a lower life
expectancy, due to the need for more endoscopies and a
greater incidence of complications. The incremental cost-
utility ratio for surveillance every five years was
$98,000/quality-adjusted life year (QALY) gained, which,
although less than the estimated cost of $590,000 for surveil-
lance every two years, is substantially more than the
$20,000/QALY to $22,000/QALY estimated for colon and
breast cancer screening. However, because these ratios may
not be relevant to a Canadian practice setting, there is a need
for modelling studies using Canadian data.
Surveillance, like screening endoscopy (statements 52 and
53), has significant implications for health care resource uti-
lization. Opinion on the advisability of surveillance was divided
(statement 57) because of concerns that it was associated with
limited documented benefit in the face of significant costs. On
the other hand, there was also concern that failure to under-
take surveillance would fall below the standard of care implied
by the American College of Gastroenterology guidelines
(243). Finally, surveillance was not endorsed for patients who
are ineligible for esophagectomy or ablative therapy.
Statement 59: When high-grade dysplasia is detected for the first
time, endoscopy should be repeated within three months with a con-
centrated biopsy protocol and expert pathologist review of all biopsies
(Level II-3, B; vote: a 83%, b 17%).
Statement 60: In the presence of confirmed high-grade dysplasia or
malignancy, expert consultations should be obtained to ascertain the
optimal endoscopic or surgical management strategy (Level III, B;
vote: a 87%, b 13%).
In most cases, the presence of high-grade dysplasia should be
confirmed by repeat endoscopy and biopsies within three
months of initial detection after the patient has had continu-
ous treatment with double dose (twice-daily standard dose)
PPI to heal associated erosive esophagitis and minimise reflux-
related injury, inflammation and proliferative changes.
However, for some patients, such as those with multifocal
high-grade dysplasia, referral for therapy does not require a
repeat confirmatory endoscopy (243).
Canadian Consensus on the management of GERD
Can J Gastroenterol Vol 19 No 1 January 200527
Endoscopic mucosal resection and ablation are available in
some centres for the management of localized, high-grade dys-
plasia but experience to date is limited (275,284-290). In gen-
eral, surgery is the recommended strategy for patients who are
otherwise healthy but it should be done in centres where these
procedures are performed regularly (291). Esophagectomy can
be associated with important side effects including dumping
syndrome, dysphagia, diarrhea, early satiety and weight loss,
and can reduce quality of life substantially (264,292-295).
Vagal-sparing esophagectomy and other techniques are under
investigation and may be promising in the future. Endoscopic
treatments require further study before they can be routinely
recommended. Optimal management will generally require
input from one or more appropriate specialists in the fields of
gastroenterology, oncology, gastrointestinal histopathology
and thoracic surgery.
Statement 61*: Ablation therapy should be considered for individu-
als with high-grade dysplasia or esophageal adenocarcinoma who are
unfit for or unwilling to undergo surgery (Level I, A; vote: a 77%,
b 18%, c 5%).
Patients with coexisting major medical conditions who are not
suitable for surgery may benefit from other therapeutic interven-
tions, including photodynamic therapy (PDT), endoscopic
mucosal resection, thermal destruction, Nd:YAG (neodymium:
yttrium aluminum garnet) laser ablation, injection therapy,
esophageal dilation, placement of prosthetic tubes (296), argon
plasma coagulation and bipolar electrocoagulation (297). Two
randomized controlled trials have assessed ablative PDT in
patients with Barrett’s epithelium (284,286,287). Ablation of
high-grade dysplasia was accomplished in 80% of patients
treated with PDT plus omeprazole compared with 40% of
those treated with omeprazole alone (284,285). At two years of
follow-up, there were significantly fewer cases of cancer with
PDT compared with omeprazole alone (13% versus 28%) (287).
However, there is a significant risk of stricture after PDT (37%
of patients) and the procedure is costly (284,285). The proce-
dure is most promising for patients not suitable for surgery who
have high-grade dysplasia or superficial adenocarcinoma.
Several case series have reported positive results with endo-
scopic mucosal resection (288-290).
Burden of illness studies show that GERD is a costly illness,
with the highest annual direct costs of all gastrointestinal and
liver diseases, at $9.3 billion a year in the USA (298). At
$5.89 billion, drugs constituted the largest component of direct
costs. In Canada, over $670 million is spent on PPI and H2RA
therapy annually (299).
PPI therapy is a cost-effective alternative to H2RA therapy
for the long-term medical management of GERD (300-305).
The higher acquisition costs for PPIs versus H2RAs are partially
offset by gains in health status (304). Treatment with PPIs
resolves symptoms more rapidly and prevents symptomatic
recurrence more effectively (300,304). Results of decision
analysis comparing different empirical treatment strategies
with H2RAs and PPIs demonstrated that initial treatment with
PPIs followed by on-demand therapy was a cost-effective
approach (301). This strategy produced more QALYs at a lower
cost than the H2RA, step-up, step-down and continuous PPI
strategies. The cost-effectiveness ratios were $20,934/QALY
gained for patients with moderate to severe GERD symptoms,
and $37,923 for patients with mild GERD symptoms versus a
reference strategy of lifestyle modification. A Canadian analy-
sis found that PPI maintenance (incremental $98,000/QALY)
and intermittent PPI (incremental $12,000/QALY) therapy
were more expensive but provided a greater number of symptom-
free weeks (7.1 and 5.5, respectively) compared with intermit-
tent H2RA therapy (reference strategy) (306).
On-demand therapy with a PPI is a cost-effective man-
agement strategy both for patients with ENRD (301,307)
and for those with mild-to-moderate GERD, including Los
Angeles grades A and B esophagitis (308). A pooled analysis
of data from three six-month trials (307) found that 90% of
patients with ENRD could control symptoms effectively
with on-demand esomeprazole 20 mg with 16% to 61% lower
direct medical costs compared with either intermittent (four-
week acute treatment) or continuous omeprazole treatment.
Medical antireflux therapy may be more cost-effective than
surgical antireflux therapy over a five-year time frame (200),
although this remains controversial (270). In a randomized con-
trolled trial, 298 patients received either continuing treatment
with omeprazole or underwent open antireflux surgery (200). At
five years of follow-up, the direct medical costs per patient were
lower with medical treatment, but the differences between the
two strategies decreased over time. As well, the results were
highly dependent on the costs of surgery, which varied greatly
among countries (200). However, a Canadian modelling study
of medical versus surgical costs found that laparoscopic antire-
flux surgery was a cost-effective alternative for patients with ero-
sive esophagitis compared with long-term PPI maintenance
therapy provided that the symptomatic failure rate was less than
10% per year and that maintenance PPI therapy cost more than
$38.60 per month (270). While the initial cost of surgery is
higher, it becomes the more cost-effective option at 3.3 years of
follow-up. The clinical implications of analyses such as these in
clinical practice are unclear in part because the outcomes are
dependent on the baseline assumptions – especially the country –
on which the modelling is based, and the costs of surgical and
medical therapy. The effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of
antireflux surgery for other reasons, including extraesophageal
GERD and ENRD, has not been studied.
Although GERD is one of the most common conditions in the
Western world, there is a surprising paucity of information on
its natural history, sequelae and the effect of long-term man-
agement strategies on outcomes. Future research should focus
on areas where data are lacking, to provide evidence that will
improve the diagnosis, treatment and, potentially, prevention
of GERD and its complications. International consensus on
the definition and diagnosis of GERD should be a priority. In
addition, more data are needed on:
• risk factors for the development of GERD including
diet, obesity, medication, H pylori status, genetics and
acid secretory status;
• the role of endoscopy in GERD management;
• the long-term prognosis of GERD, on and off
• the risk of developing Barrett’s epithelium and
esophageal adenocarcinoma across the spectrum of
patients with GERD;
Armstrong et al
Can J Gastroenterol Vol 19 No 1 January 200528
Canadian Consensus on the management of GERD
Can J Gastroenterol Vol 19 No 1 January 200529
• the relationship between gastroesophageal reflux and
the development of NCCP and extraesophageal disease
including asthma, chronic cough, wheezing, hoarseness,
ear pain, laryngopharyngitis and dental erosions;
• the outcomes and costs for various evidence-based
strategies for the management of GERD in clinical
APPENDIX: LIST OF ATTENDEES
Nonvoting chairs: John Marshall (JKM), David Armstrong
Voting participants: Canadian: Mehran Anvari (MA), Bill
Bartle (BB), Naoki Chiba (NC), André Duranceau (AD),
Robert Enns (RE), Carlo Fallone (CF), Nigel Flook (NF),
Krishnasamy Govender (KG), Roger Hollingworth (RH),
Richard H. Hunt (RHH), Liisa Jaakkimainen (LJ), Walter
Kutcher (WK), Norman Marcon (NM), Serge Mayrand (SM),
Anthony Otley (AO), William Paterson (WP), Joseph
Romagnuolo (JR), Dan Sadowski (DS), Phil Sherman (PS),
Sander van Zanten (SVZ). International: Ronnie Fass (RF),
Peter Kahrilas (PK), Paul Moayyedi (PM).
Canadian Association of
Gastroenterology (CAG), CAG Practice Affairs Committee,
CAG Endoscopy Committee, Canadian Association of
General Surgeons, Canadian Association of Primary Care
Gastroenterology (CanGut), College of Family Physicians of
Canada, CAG Liason Committee, CAG Pediatrics
Nonvoting observers: Hassen M Abdullah (Therapeutic
Products Directorate, Health Canada), Paul Sinclair (CAG),
and representatives of the pharmaceutical industry. The meet-
ing was open for observation by nonparticipating physicians.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: The authors wish to thank Pauline
Lavigne for the preparation of the manuscript, and Dr AN Barkun
for review of the manuscript. We also acknowledge the contribu-
tion of Cathy Yuan, Sandra Daniels and Paul Sinclair in assisting
in the organization of the Consensus Conference. The CAG
would like to thank the sponsors, Abbott Laboratories Ltd, Altana
Pharma Canada Inc, AstraZeneca Canada, GlaxoSmithKline
Consumer Health Care, Janssen-Ortho Inc, Solvay Pharma Inc,
Axcan Pharma Inc, Boston Scientific Ltd, Curon Medical,
Medtronic of Canada Ltd, Pentax Precision Instrument Corp, and
the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and acknowledge the
receipt of unrestricted grants to support the meeting.
Disclosure of potential conflict of interest: No, I do not have
any industry or government relationships to report: (KG, RH, LJ,
Receipt of consultation fees: Abbott (NC, CF, PS), Allergan
(PK), Altana (DA, NC, RE, CF, RF, NF), AstraZeneca (DA, BB,
NC, RE, CF, RF, NF, RHH, PK, WP, JR, SVZ), Axcan (RHH),
Canadian Medical Protective Association (AD), Enteromedics
(MA), Eisai Japan (RF), Eisai USA (RF), GlaxoSmithKline (NF,
RHH), Janssen-Ortho (DA, BB, NC, CF, RF, PK, JR, SVZ),
Medtronics (PK), Merck Frosst (RHH), Negma (RHH), Nicox
(RHH), Novartis (BB, NF, PK, SVZ), Ontario Ministry of Health
and Long-term Care (JKM), Pfizer (NF), Solvay (NF), TAP
Pharmaceuticals (RF, RHH), Wyeth (RF), Xillix Vancouver
Receipt of research grants: Abbott (DA, CF, DS); Altana (DA,
RE); AstraZeneca (DA, RE, CF, RF, PK, DS, PS, SVZ); Axcan
(JKM); Canadian Association of Gastroenterology Partnership
Program (JR); Canadian Institutes of Health Research (MA, JKM,
PS); Canadian Health Infrastructure Partnership Program
(CHIPP) (MA); Eli Lilly (DS); Given Imaging-Southmedic (RE);
JanssenOrtho (RF, RK); Medtronics (RF); Merck Frosst (RHH);
Negma (RHH); Novartis (RF); Ontario Ministry of Health and
Long-term Care (MA); Proctor & Gamble (JKM); Shire (RF);
Solvay (DA); TAP Pharmaceuticals (RF); Teva (JKM).
Receipt of clinical trial funding: Abbott (RE, CF, JKM, DS,
SVZ); Altana (DA, NC, RE, CF, JKM, DS); AstraZeneca (DA,
NC, RE, CF, RF, PK, NM, WP, JR, DS, SVZ); Axcan (NC, CF,
NM, JKM, SVZ); Ferring (NC); GlaxoSmithKline (CF, RF, WP,
SVZ); Janssen-Ortho (CF, PK); Medtronics (PK); Merck Frosst
(RHH, NM); Negma (NC, CF, RHH); Novartis (DA, NC, RF,
SVZ); Otsuka (RHH); Pfizer (SVZ); Solvay (JKM); TAP
Pharmaceuticals (RF); Wyeth (RF).
Participation in speaker’s bureau: Abbott (DA, NC, CF, NF,
JKM, SM, WP, PS); Allergan (PK); Altana (DA, NC, RE, CF, NF,
JKM, SM, WP, JR); AstraZeneca (DA, BB, NC, RE, CF, RF, NF,
RHH, PK, SM, NM, PM, WP, JR); Axcan (NC, NM, JR); Boston
Scientific (JR); GlaxoSmithKline (NF); Janssen-Ortho (BB, CF,
RF, PK, JR); Medtronics (PK); Merck Frosst (RHH, JKM); Negma
(RHH); Novartis (BB, CF, RF, NF, RHH, PK, JKM, SVZ); Pfizer
(NC, NF); Solvay (NF, JR); Takeda (PM); TAP Pharmaceuticals
(RHH); Wyeth (RF, PM).
Significant shareholdings: None reported.
Other: SCI Educational (PS), Ontario Drug Benefit Formulary
Grant support: This work was supported in part by unrestricted
grants to the CAG from Abbott Laboratories Ltd, Altana Pharma
Canada Inc, AstraZeneca Canada, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer
Health Care, Janssen-Ortho Inc, Solvay Pharma Inc, Axcan
Pharma Inc, Boston Scientific Ltd, Curon Medical, Medtronic of
Canada Ltd, Pentax Precision Instrument Corp, and the Canadian
Institutes for Health Research.
This Consensus Conference was endorsed and organized by the
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