What tests are used to diagnose gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

First and foremost, your doctor will consider your symptoms when diagnosing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and heartburn. If you suffer from heartburn frequently, your doctor will probably want to conduct some tests to determine whether you have GERD, which is more serious than occasional heartburn, or might refer you to a gastroenterologist (a digestive system specialist) for further tests. These tests might include taking X-rays of your digestive system, examining your esophagus using a thin tube called an endoscope, or measuring the amount of stomach acid in your esophagus over a specific period of time, such as 24 hours. Your doctor or the gastroenterologist might also conduct a biopsy, taking a small sample of tissue from your esophagus and sending it to a lab for further tests.

It may require no more than visiting your doctor and answering a few questions about your symptoms to determine if you have heartburn from acid reflux. Your doctor can then recommend several different treatment options, depending on your particular symptoms and medical profile.

Additional diagnostic tools:

  • Upper gastrointestinal barium study: Also called an upper GI series, this test allows for examination of the upper parts of the gastrointestinal tract, including the esophagus, stomach and small intestine.
  • Upper endoscopy: For this test, the doctor uses a flexible tube equipped with a lens, called an endoscope, to view your esophagus, your stomach and the upper part of your small intestine (duodenum). Suspicious areas can be biopsied during—the exam.
  • Esophageal manometry: This test uses soft tubing, inserted through the nose, or sometimes the mouth, to measure the pressure in the esophagus and the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
  • Esophageal pH monitoring: This test uses a probe to monitor and record acid levels near the LES. The probe is inserted via the nose.

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