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Diagnosing GERD

If you regularly have acid reflux, it is important to consult a health care provider to check if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Your provider can tell you if your symptoms are from GERD or another problem, then recommend a treatment plan that’s right for you.

When you are preparing for your appointment, it’s a good idea to write down your questions and concerns, as well as your symptoms so you can share them with your provider. You can track:

  • When symptoms happen
  • How often you have them
  • How long they last
  • What seems to cause them
  • What helps you feel better
  • How symptoms impact your life

At your appointment, your provider will probably ask about what you eat, when you eat and what foods trigger your symptoms. They may want to know if you smoke or drink alcohol, how physically active you are and what you do to manage stress.

They may also ask about the medications and supplements you are taking (whether they are for GERD symptoms or other conditions) and your personal or family history of digestive problems. 

How is GERD diagnosed?

If your provider thinks you might have GERD, they may suggest one or more of these tests to be sure about the diagnosis and also to check how severe it is. With that information, they can recommend a treatment plan that will work for you.

Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Endoscopy: In this test, your provider starts by giving you a sedation (calming) medicine so you are comfortable and don’t feel anything during the procedure. They will then pass a flexible, narrow tube with a very small camera (an endoscope) through your mouth and into your esophagus (the tube-like part of your digestive system that connects your throat to your stomach) and stomach. Endoscopy may spot inflammation, irritation or damage . A small sample of any inflamed tissue may be taken (biopsied) to check for other conditions, like acid reflux and Barrett’s esophagus.
  • pH monitoring test: With pH monitoring, your provider measures how often acid reaches your esophagus and how long it stays there. That way, your provider can tell how often you have acid reflux episodes and how long they last. PH monitoring tests can be done in two ways: by  placing a small tube through your nose and into your esophagus or placing a small capsule into the esophagus when you have an endoscopy. The capsule records the acidity levels then falls away and easily passes through the body when it’s no longer needed.
  • Barium swallow test: A type of X-ray where you swallow barium, a liquid that makes it easier to see the esophagus and any problems with it on the X-ray.
  • Esophageal manometry: For this test, your provider places a thin, flexible tube through your nose and into your esophagus and stomach. The tube has pressure sensors that can measure how strong and coordinated the muscles are in your esophagus.

Health care providers will help make sure you are comfortable during these tests.

With an endoscopy, you will need someone to drive you home and you may want to rest that day while the medicine wears off. Otherwise, most of the time, you can go on with your day right after your test without needing any recovery time 

Next steps

If you are diagnosed with GERD, there are several treatment options, including lifestyle changes, medication and sometimes, surgery.

Learn more about the treatment options available for GERD.