Impaired esophageal and gastric motilities are known to contribute to symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). However, there is a lack of GERD therapy, targeting both gastric and esophageal functions. This study was designed to investigate the effects of transcutaneous electrical acustimulation (TEA) on symptoms of GERD and gastroesophageal functions and possible mechanisms in patients with GERD.
Thirty patients with GERD with ineffective esophageal motility were equally divided and randomized into a 4-week sham-TEA or 4-week TEA treatment. The GERD questionnaire (GerdQ), GERD health-related quality-of-life questionnaire, high-resolution esophageal manometry, a nutrient drink test, the electrogastrogram, and ECG were performed to assess the severity of reflux symptoms, low esophageal sphincter (LES) pressure, distal contractile integral (DCI), gastric accommodation, gastric slow waves (GSW), and autonomic functions, respectively.
Compared with sham-TEA, the 4-week TEA treatment significantly decreased the GerdQ score (P = 0.011) and GERD health-related quality of life (P = 0.028) and improved nutrient drink–induced fullness (P < 0.001) and belching (P < 0.001) in patients with GERD. Although only acute TEA significantly enhanced LES pressure (P < 0.05), both acute and chronic TEA remarkedly increased DCI (P < 0.05) and reduced the incidence of ineffective esophageal contractions during wet swallows (P = 0.02). In addition, chronic TEA significantly increased gastric accommodation and the percentage of postprandial normal GSW compared with sham-TEA and baseline. Concurrently, TEA-enhanced vagal activity (P = 0.02) and the vagal activity positively correlated with LES pressure (r = 0.528; P = 0.003) and DCI (r = 0.522; P = 0.003).
The TEA treatment performed in this study improves reflux-related symptoms, increases DCI, reduces the incidence of ineffective esophageal contractions during wet swallows, and improves gastric accommodation and slow waves. The improvement in GERD symptoms might be attributed to the integrative effects of TEA on these gastroesophageal functions mediated via the vagal mechanism.