Using molecular imaging, researchers examined the function of esophageal muscles in 49 people with suspected or confirmed gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), and found what they described as strong evidence that poor esophageal muscle tone plays a role in the condition, whether people have mild, moderate or severe cases.
The findings were to be presented during the annual meeting of the Society of Nuclear Medicine, being held June 5-9 in Salt Lake City.
GERD is thought to affect from 15 percent to 35 percent of the U.S. population. In people with the condition, the circular muscle that seals off the stomach from the esophagus does not close properly. This enables the acidic stomach contents to rise up, or reflux, into the esophagus, resulting in inflammation and acid indigestion, or heartburn. Chronic reflux — occurring more than twice a week — is considered GERD, according to the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Long-term exposure to stomach acid can lead to serious damage of esophageal tissue and, possibly, cancer.
“If the findings of this study are confirmed by similar larger studies, it may lead to the use of medications to correct the abnormal muscular movements in the esophageal wall,” Alok Pawaskar, a consultant in the nuclear medicine department at Apollo Hospitals, based in Chennai, India, said in a news release from the society. “These medications, when used in combination with common antacids that reduce the acidity of the stomach’s contents, could provide patients with long-term relief from reflux disease.”