Background: There have been very few reports assessing the relationship between various upper gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms or evaluating each individual upper GI symptom separately. Methods: Based on the answers to Frequency Scale for the Symptoms of GERD from a large-scale population of healthy adults in Japan, a hierarchical cluster analysis was performed to categorize the typical 12 upper GI symptoms. The associations between the 12 symptoms and 13 background factors were systematically analyzed among the 18,097 digestive drug-free subjects, 364 proton-pump inhibitor (PPI) users, and 528 histamine H2-receptor antagonist (H2RA) users. Results: The derived relationship between the 12 upper GI symptoms suggests the five symptom categories: heartburn (2), dyspepsia (4), acid regurgitation (3), pharyngo-upper esophageal discomfort (2), and fullness while eating (1). Among the digestive drug-free subjects, inadequate sleep, weight gain in adulthood, NSAID use, meals immediately prior to sleep, and frequent skipping of breakfast showed significant positive association with most upper GI symptoms. Compared to the digestive drug-free subjects, significantly associated factors for PPI and H2RA users are respectively different in "4 of 5" and "5 of 5" symptoms in heartburn and acid regurgitation categories, "1 of 2" and "1 of 2" symptoms in pharyngo-upper esophageal discomfort category, and "0 of 5" and "3 of 5" symptoms in dyspepsia and fullness while eating categories. These differences between digestive drug-free subjects and gastric acid suppressant users seem to correlate with our experiences in clinical situations: heartburn and acid regurgitation category symptoms are effectively controlled with PPI and H 2RA whereas other category symptoms are not. Conclusions: The 12 upper GI symptoms can be classified into five categories, which are statistically associated with various background factors. The differences of associated factors between digestive drug-free subjects and digestive drug users may be useful in studying the drug effects upon diverse upper GI symptoms.
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