What is the role of endoscopy and oesophageal biopsies in the management of GERD?
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Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a diagnosis applicable to "all individuals who are exposed to the risk of physical complications from gastroesophageal reflux, or who experience clinically significant impairment of health related well being (quality of life) due to reflux related symptoms, after adequate reassurance of the benign nature of their symptoms". It remains, predominantly, a symptom-based diagnosis, confirmed clinically by a response to acid suppression therapy although it is accompanied by demonstrable increases in acid exposure on esophageal pH-metry and by endoscopic and histological changes. Standard white light endoscopy permits diagnosis of erosive reflux disease (ERD) which, if present, should be graded for severity using the Los Angeles classification system. However, the role of endoscopy in clinical practice is, primarily, to evaluate patients with persistent symptoms, despite medical therapy, or to investigate alarm features and exclude complications such as Barrett' oesophagus which should be assessed using the Prague C & M criteria. Newer endoscopic techniques allow detection of 'minimal change' GERD lesions and Barrett's oesophagus-associated dysplastic or neoplastic lesions; however, none of the newer techniques has been validated for routine clinical practice. There is an increasing recognition that histology in GERD may provide useful diagnostic information, in part to exclude other lesions, such as eosinophilic oesophagitis, intestinal metaplasia and dysplasia or malignancy and, in part, to identify changes, such as basal cell hyperplasia, papillary elongation and, most recently, dilated intercellular spaces, that are consistent with GERD. However, more widespread incorporation of histology into the clinical management of GERD will require a standardized biopsy protocol and efforts to minimise interobserver differences in the identification of GERD-related histological changes.