Chronic cough and gastroesophageal reflux.
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We reviewed the charts of 20 patients with chronic cough of unknown cause who had been referred to a tertiary care respiratory centre from 1980 to 1984 to determine whether gastroesophageal reflux (GER) was a contributing factor. Fifteen of the patients complained of symptoms suggestive of GER: radiologic investigation of the upper gastrointestinal tract revealed hiatus hernia and GER in four, hiatus hernia alone in three, GER alone in two, decreased esophageal peristalsis in one and normal findings in four. Fibreoptic bronchoscopy in the four former smokers and one nonsmoker showed diffuse mucosal erythema. A chest x-ray film in one patient showed an infiltrate at the base of the right lung; transbronchial biopsy revealed vegetable material, which confirmed pulmonary aspiration. A 3-month course of medical antireflux treatment (dietary and lifestyle changes, elevation of the head of the bed and administration of cimetidine, antacid and metoclopramide) relieved the chronic cough in 14 of the 20 patients. Of the remaining patients one was lost to follow-up and five had GER confirmed by means of esophagoscopy, esophageal motility testing and long-term intraesophageal pH monitoring; four of the five patients underwent fundoplication and were asymptomatic 3 months after surgery. Antireflux therapy should be considered in patients with chronic cough when other causes have been ruled out, even if there are no GER symptoms. If the treatment fails, full investigation for GER is recommended; if GER is confirmed, surgery should be considered.
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