Intended for healthcare professionals

Practice Uncertainties

What is the most effective treatment for severe gastro-oesophageal reflux disease?

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 24 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3169
  1. John Maret-Ouda, medical doctor and doctoral candidate1,
  2. Nele Brusselaers, medical doctor and post-doctoral researcher1,
  3. Jesper Lagergren, professor and consultant of surgery1, professor of upper gastrointestinal cancer and honorary consultant of surgery2
  1. 1Upper Gastrointestinal Surgery, Department of Molecular Medicine and Surgery, Karolinska Institutet, Norra Stationsgatan 67, 171 76, Stockholm, Sweden
  2. 2Section of Gastrointestinal Cancer, Division of Cancer Studies, King’s College London, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, London SE1 7EH, UK
  1. Correspondence to: J Lagergren jesper.lagergren{at}


Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is defined as “a condition which develops when reflux of stomach contents causes troublesome symptoms and/or complications.”1 GORD can be categorised as mild or severe; it is considered severe when the patient experiences severe symptoms due to reflux of gastric contents, develops complications, or both.2 Complications are commonly diagnosed endoscopically as oesophagitis with confluent mucosal erosions.3 Other presentations of severe GORD include peptic strictures and Barrett’s oesophagus, a metaplasia in which parts of the native oesophageal squamous epithelium are replaced by specialised columnar epithelium. The main alternatives for treatment of severe GORD are continuous treatment with a proton pump inhibitor and surgery with fundoplication; which is the more effective is not clear. The treatment decision largely depends on the recommendations of the clinician.

What is the evidence of the uncertainty?

We did a systematic literature search of Medline, Cochrane, and Web of Science to identify relevant randomised clinical trials, meta-analyses, and systematic reviews, using the search terms gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, proton pump inhibitors, and fundoplication. Although severity of GORD was not always specified, patients eligible for long term proton pump inhibitor or fundoplication typically have severe GORD. From the identified studies, we did backward and forward citation tracking to identify other relevant articles.

Reflux control

A Cochrane systematic review of a large patient sample (n=1232) from four randomised clinical trials comparing proton pump inhibitors and fundoplication found that reflux symptoms were less frequent after fundoplication compared with proton pump inhibitor treatment, but surgical patients more often had dysphagia.2 Two of the trials included in the Cochrane review measured recurrence of GORD, defined as the need for and an inadequate response to increased drug treatment or the need for added proton pump inhibitor after surgical treatment. One (n=554) found treatment failure in 10% and 7% three years after fundoplication and proton pump …

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