|The Most Common Type of Heartburn: Non-erosive Esophageal Reflux Disease|
Hitch up your pants and install your pocket protector. If you have reflux, chances are it’s not just GERD, it’s NERD!
by Patricia L. Raymond, M.D., FACP, FACG
You come to my office with heartburn, I give you a pill you take once a day, and you get better. I am a goddess of gastroenterology.
Unless it doesn’t work.
For many of my patients, the scenario is more like: You come to my office already taking a powerful pill two, even three, times daily. You still have reflux, and the discomfort has a huge impact on your wellbeing. We endoscope you … and see absolutely nothing.
What are you, nuts? Nah, you’re likely a NERD.
No, I haven’t implied that you’re a socially awkward, intelligent young person with glasses, braces and high-riding pants. I’m talking about a relatively new heartburn classification. You’re likely already familiar with the term GERD, or good old gastroesophageal reflux disease. Well, now you need to meet someone new.
NERD stands for non-erosive esophageal reflux disease. This means that when we gastroenterologists scope you, there are no erosions or ulcers to see. Unfortunately for the NERDs, this lack of signs makes it harder to treat. Much harder.
Further, NERDs have more reflux episodes without acid. In fact, only 50 percent of NERDs have prolonged acid contact time. So there’s pain with limited acid, which explains why all the anti-acid meds in the world won’t completely stop the burning.
The esophagus in people with NERD is more sensitive to acid. Even weak acid can cause pain. The spaces between the esophageal lining cells appear to be wider in these folks. Researchers hypothesize that this may be responsible for the enhanced sensitivity, but they’re not sure how.
It was easy to spot a nerd in high school; you looked for the pocket protector, thick glasses or slide rule. Diagnosing NERD in medical practice has not reached primetime.
Gastroenterologists might suspect NERD if you fail to respond completely to strong acid-suppression medications. Testing will show that your lower esophageal sphincter works fine, and you don’t have a lot of extra acid making it up your esophagus.
So we can make a good guess at what you have. The bad news is, we can’t successfully treat it—not yet, anyway.
Acid-suppressing medication doesn’t work well for NERDs. Mediciness to make your esophagus contract more effectively don’t help; it’s moving just fine, thank you. Surgery to help your lower esophageal sphincter work better isn’t as helpful in NERD as it is with some other GERD types. (That’s controversial, though, because some believe the surgery, called Nissan fundoplication, is useful in all kinds of GERD.)
Nevertheless, don’t despair. With up to 12 percent of the population having NERD, the pharmaceutical industry will no doubt be working hard at this condition.
Last updated and/or approved March 2010. Article originally appeared in the May/June 2009 former print magazine.
Just got diagnosed with this
written by Christa , June 26, 2015
The article was very easy to read, and understand. It pointed out important things to me I did't really understand. Thank you for informing me!
written by Kurt Bockoven , June 22, 2011
Loved your article. Enjoyed your writing style. I always wondered why some medications just didn't work. I always thought it was because of an h. pylori infection but now I have something else to look into. I write a daily medical blog for my patients and also have written posts about heartburn and the dreaded h. pylori stomach infections.
Holistic Cure for Acid Reflux
written by Randy , June 15, 2011
This was a good article to read. I hate thinking about how much people go to the hospital and doctors don't see anything wrong with them when their actually is something wrong, and not just heartburn but for other medical conditions as well. I think we should have more funding so we can research more things so we can discover new things and get to where when people do go to the hospitals the doctors will be able to find things that are wrong that they wouldn't have before.