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Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease--experience in daily practice: symptoms and symptom assessment.

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease is one of the most common medical problems in daily practice, with many guidelines on diagnosis and treatment available. The prevalence and incidence of reflux disease are rising. In a period of 10 years, the incidence of reflux oesophagitis has almost doubled, as has the number of pills and tablets of acid-suppressive therapy sold. The decreased number of patients with severe reflux oesophagitis is indicative of increased public awareness. Heartburn and regurgitation are the hallmarks of reflux disease. The symptom score in patients with the mild reflux oesophagitis is significantly higher than it is in patients presenting with severe oesophagitis, NERD or Barrett's oesophagus. Patients with mild oesophagitis also suffer from more reflux. Dysphagia is often the only presenting symptom in severe oesophagitis. Patients with reflux oesophagitis have a significantly higher symptom score than patients with Barrett's oesophagus. The scores for heartburn and acid regurgitation are significantly higher in reflux oesophagitis. The primary goal of treatment is complete clinical remission and prevention of long-term complications. In a study with a follow-up of 4.5 to 7.5 years in patients with reflux oesophagitis it was shown that 85% still used acid-suppressive therapy, mostly on a daily basis. However, the majority were never completely free of reflux. Despite the fact that the degree of reflux oesophagitis correlates with the risk of relapse, also patients in whom initially the most severe grade of reflux oesophagitis (grades III and IV) was diagnosed no longer use medication. Treatment of reflux disease with acid suppressants is a major component in national and international drug budgets, and health-care authorities and insurance companies are eager to reduce these budgets. Since diagnosis and treatment are already discussed in many guidelines, cut-backs could be achieved in patients on maintenance therapy. For this reason, more data have to be assessed on therapy outcome in cases of chronic maintenance therapy. Guidelines for maintenance or on-demand therapy are necessary.

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