Uncomplicated gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) accounted for 13.5% of esophagogastroduodenoscopies, but 5.6% of these patients had suspected Barrett’s esophagus and only 1.4% had suspected long-segment Barrett’s esophagus, researchers reported. The study appears in the April issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

“The prevalence of suspected Barrett’s esophagus is lower than in prior time periods. This raises questions about the utility of esophagogastroduodenoscopies to detect Barrett’s esophagus in patients with uncomplicated GERD,” wrote Emery C. Lin, MD, of Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, and his associates there and at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.

Symptoms of GERD affect more than one in four U.S. adults and are a risk factor for Barrett’s esophagus. However, the prevalence of Barrett’s esophagus is unclear in patients with dysphagia and in the era of proton pump inhibitors, the researchers said. The American Gastroenterological Association strongly discourages reflexively screening patients with GERD for Barrett’s esophagus, but “weakly recommends” screening GERD patients with multiple risk factors for Barrett’s esophagus, including chronic GERD, hiatal hernia, older age (50 years and up), white race, male sex, increased body mass index, and intra-abdominal adiposity.

To understand the prevalence and findings of esophagogastroduodenoscopy in patients with GERD without alarm symptoms (including weight loss, dysphagia, and bleeding), the investigators studied 543,103 of these procedures performed at 82 sites in the United States between 2003 and 2013. The data came from the National Endoscopic Database, which generates endoscopy reports using a structured computer form.

A total of 73,535 esophagogastroduodenoscopies (13.5%) were performed for GERD without alarm symptoms. Among these patients, 4,122 (5.6%) had suspected Barrett’s esophagus, of which 24.2% had suspected long-segment Barrett’s esophagus (3 cm or longer). Among patients with uncomplicated GERD, the prevalence of suspected Barrett’s esophagus was 5.6%, and the prevalence of long-segment disease was 1.4%.

Although male sex, older age, and white race were significant risk factors for suspected Barrett’s esophagus and suspected long-segment disease, 23.6% of esophagogastroduodenoscopies were performed in white men older than 50 years. “We find that low-risk populations with uncomplicated GERD make up a significant number of esophagogastroduodenoscopies done for uncomplicated GERD,” the investigators wrote. “If esophagogastroduodenoscopies were limited to patients that met the AGA criteria of being male, white, and age over 50, we would have detected 34 of 47 (72.3%) of esophageal tumors and found suspected Barrett’s esophagus in nearly 10%, while reducing the burden of endoscopy by more than 75%.”

Hiatal hernia was a significant correlate of suspected Barrett’s esophagus (odds ratio, 1.6), the researchers noted. Esophagitis was not associated with suspected Barrett’s esophagus overall but did correlate with long-segment disease. Esophagitis might mask underlying short-segment Barrett’s esophagus, and short-segment Barrett’s esophagus might be milder in nature and more responsive to antisecretory therapy, the researchers said. They noted that severe (grade C/D) esophagitis was strongly linked with both short-segment and long-segment Barrett’s esophagus.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases provided funding. The researchers reported having no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Lin EC et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2019 Apr. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2018.08.066.