Author(s): Malfertheiner P
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Abstract The meaning and definition of dyspepsia continues to challenge clinical investigators and has led to the setting up of several international working teams. However, confusion continues to reign around this term. The effort to classify patients with dyspepsia into subgroups according to their most predominant symptoms has failed to provide clues to the underlying disease, or even to discriminate between functional and organic dyspepsia. With these limitations in mind, the question arises: is there any reason for putting further effort into developing a world-wide definition of dyspepsia when, in addition to the aforementioned shortcomings, further variables such as geographical region, ethnic background, culture and sanitary resources come into play? The answer is that only by establishing a reproducible methodology for individual symptom assessment using a well-defined protocol will comparisons of the prevalence of dyspepsia and the impact of different therapeutic interventions become possible around the world. The data on dyspepsia prevalence, nearly all arising from studies in a few developed geographical areas and countries, are of the order of 1-4\% of all consultations in all primary care medicine. However, estimates of adults affected by dyspepsia are as high as 20-40\%. The magnitude of these statistics underlines the necessity for further work on the concept of dyspepsia and its major functional subgroups, following the exclusion of any organic causes. Issues such as 'investigate dyspepsia before starting with any kind of treatment or treat dyspepsia before further investigation' or the debate about whether to 'eradicate or ignore Helicobacter pylori in functional dyspepsia' will remain unresolved unless studies performed throughout the world use widely comparable and acceptable definitions and criteria for these conditions. Since the first international working party report in 1988, definitions of dyspepsia have included the description of 'upper abdominal pain or discomfort' and, more recently, have specified 'pain or discomfort centered in the upper abdomen' in order to emphasise further the site of origin as the upper alimentary tract (stomach-duodenum). However, a major change was evident in the more recent Rome I and Rome II reports, in which the symptoms heartburn, acid regurgitation, and belching were excluded from the definition of dyspepsia because of their relation to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and aerophagia. The intention to define a set of symptoms for dyspepsia is good, but we continue to be faced with overlaps. How should the patient with epigastric pain and heartburn after endoscopic exclusion of duodenal ulcer and reflux esophagitis be classified: dyspepsia or GERD? In cases of abnormal gastroesophageal reflux, 24-h pH monitoring could help to resolve this dilemma, but what if this investigation turns out to be normal? In this field, we need to perform careful studies. In addition, we need to consider the lifestyle and cultural habits of people around the world when translating upper gastrointestinal symptoms into dyspepsia. A step forward in the definition of dyspepsia was attempted by the recent working party for the Rome II consensus on functional gastrointestinal disorders (N. Talley et al.). In this project, the symptoms of dyspepsia were individually described not by a single term, but by painting a 'word picture', to make it easier for patients to express their symptoms, and give doctors and clinical investigators a better understanding of the 'dyspeptic problem' of each individual. It is advisable to follow this approach, since a clear picture of a patient's symptoms, including their duration and intensity, in association with the modern technical approaches that allow investigation beyond organic causes of dyspepsia, will lead to progress in our understanding and better communication about this problem within the medical community, and ultimately to better treatment.
This article was published in Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol
and referenced in Internal Medicine: Open Access