Selective Data Mining: Reflux and Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia

With some studies, the abstract may suggest a more compelling result than is truly evident.  That’s how I feel about a recent report (Nobile S, et al. J Pediatr 2015; 167: 279-85).

Here’s the conclusion (verbatim) from the abstract: “The increased number of (and sensitivity for) pH-only events among infants with BPD may be explained by several factors, including lower milk intake, impaired esophageal motility, and a peculiar autonomic nervous system response pattern.”

To me, it sounds like this prospective study of pH-multichannel intraluminal impedance (pH-MII) of 46 infants born ≤32 weeks gestation (12 with bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) and 34 without BPD) must have identified something important linking gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and BPD.  But, the real findings, in my view, are that this is a negative study. Period.

Here are the results reported in the abstract:

  • “Infants with BPD…had increased numbers of pH-only events (median number 21 v 9) and a higher symptom symptom sensitivity index for pH-only events (9% vs. 4.9%)”
  • They also state: “the number and characteristics of acid, weakly acid, nonacid and gas gastroesophageal reflux events, acid exposure, esophageal clearance, and recorded symptoms did not significantly differ between the 2 groups.”

Here’s a little more data –not in the abstract:

  • The P value for the difference in pH-only events was .360
  • The authors could just have easily pointed out (in the abstract) that infants without BPD had increased acid exposure: 40.5 min compared with 27.0 min (P = .599)

What should have been in the abstract conclusion? Perhaps, the first line of their discussion: “Infants with BPD did not have significantly higher GER features compared with infants without BPD as measured by esophageal pH-MII monitoring, except for higher occurrence of pH-only events and higher SSI for pH-only events.”

The authors try to explain the differences in the BPD patients by highlighting some of the potential mechanisms of reflux and/or autonomic dysfunction.  I think the limitations of this study deserve careful scrutiny.  This was a small study with only 12 BPD infants.  There was a significant selection bias -only ‘symptomatic’ infants were included.  Some of the factors affecting BPD directly could have an indirect effect on reflux (eg. caffeine).

The authors make one other point: “we believe pharmacologic treatment for GER should be initiated only after the demonstration of pathologic pH-MII monitoring to avoid unnecessary drug therapy, adverse events, and costs.”

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One thought on “Selective Data Mining: Reflux and Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia

  1. Pingback: How Likely is Reflux in Infants with “Reflux-like” Behaviors? | gutsandgrowth

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