March 02, 2022 6 min read

GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a medical condition that affects the lining of your esophagus. People with GERD may develop numerous long-term medical problems as a result of exposing the esophageal lining to the acid that comes from your stomach, including tissue damage in the esophageal lining.

There are several symptoms that may present with GERD, including heartburn, nausea, and trouble swallowing. Left untreated, symptoms and esophageal tissue damage can get worse with time. If you think you may have GERD, it’s important to get a GERD test as soon as possible so you can focus on treatment. If you’re experiencing symptoms that may indicate that you have GERD, here’s what you need to know about how to test for GERD and more.

GERD Symtoms

What Is GERD?

GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a condition where acid from the stomach refluxes into the esophageal lining, where it can cause tissue damage and other symptoms. GERD may present with or without tissue damage. If there’s no tissue damage evident, GERD is referred to as non-erosive GERD. The presence of tissue damage depends on the extent to which the esophageal lining has been exposed to stomach acid.

According to researchers, an estimated 20 percent of people in the United States are living with GERD. While there are certain lifestyle choices and medications that can increase your risk of GERD, anyone can get it. Understanding the risk factors for GERD can help you prevent GERD, but there’s still a chance that you may develop GERD at some point.

20% of Americans suffer from GERD

GERD can come with a lot of complications, including Barrett’s esophagus, esophagitis, esophageal stricture, and various complications that don’t occur in the esophagus. Early diagnosis is the key to minimizing the symptoms you experience with GERD and reducing the damage that GERD does to your esophageal lining over time.

X-rays

How Is GERD Diagnosed?

If you think you may have GERD, getting a diagnosis as soon as possible is important. Your doctor or specialist can diagnose your GERD and determine the severity of it, plus they can help you decide on the best treatment plan. The earlier you switch to a GERD diet or take other steps to get relief from GERD, the sooner you’ll get relief and the less damage you’ll ultimately do to your esophagus.

Here are some of the tests your doctor or specialist will use to diagnose GERD:

Esophagram

An esophagram is a type of diagnostic test which involves using X-ray imaging to look at your esophagus. Your doctor will have you drink a cup of liquid called barium, which they can see as it moves throughout your body. This GERD test helps doctors and specialists diagnose GERD and determine the severity of GERD based on what’s shown in the X-rays. As the liquid moves from your mouth to your stomach, it gives doctors a look at your esophagus because barium is a contrast material.

Upper Endoscopy

In addition to using X-rays and barium to look at your esophagus, an upper endoscopy may be performed in the process of diagnosing GERD. During an upper endoscopy, a doctor will insert an endoscope through your mouth to get a look at the part of your esophagus that connects your mouth to your stomach. During this procedure, you will be sedated so you don’t feel pain, and you may not remember the procedure. An upper endoscopy is also known as esophagogastroduodenoscopy or EGD.

Esophageal Manometry

Unlike the other GERD tests your doctor may use to diagnose GERD, esophageal manometry is designed to look at the motor function of your esophagus. When you swallow, your esophagus should contract to help move food from your mouth down toward your stomach. Esophageal manometry measures these contractions to determine whether or not your esophagus is functioning properly. An esophagus that’s not properly working to move food down toward the stomach can be a sign of reflux, so this is an important GERD test.

GERD Tests infographic

Ambulatory 24-hour pH Probe

Your doctor may also use an ambulatory 24-hour pH probe to determine the presence of stomach acid in your esophagus. Stomach acid that refluxes into the esophagus is what causes the damage that’s associated with GERD, so this is an important test when it comes to diagnosing GERD.

During an ambulatory 24-hour pH probe, you’ll have a tube-like device called a catheter inserted through your nose, down through your esophagus, and into the opening of your stomach. This catheter stays in place for a period of 24 hours, regularly delivering data it’s collecting to a computer nearby. These tests are an essential part of diagnosing reflux in people who can’t be properly diagnosed with other GERD lab tests.

Esophageal Impedance-pH Study

An esophageal impedance-pH study is one of several GERD tests that are commonly used to diagnose GERD in patients. This test is designed to measure the amount of reflux in your esophagus over a 24-hour period, which includes both acidic and non-acidic reflux. This information is crucial because it helps doctors understand the severity of your GERD and what the best treatment options may be.

Like an ambulatory 24-hour pH probe, an esophageal impedance-pH study is performed by inserting a catheter through your nose and esophagus. During this test, you can still swallow, breathe, and speak normally.

Doctor with patient

GERD Test: Frequently Asked Questions

If you still have more questions about testing for GERD and the different GERD tests that doctors use for diagnosis, here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

How do you know if you have GERD?

People living with GERD have a problem with acid from the stomach refluxing up into the esophagus and causing damage. If you frequently experience heartburn or even reflux that seems to burn the back of your throat, that’s a sign that you may be dealing with GERD. People living with GERD may also have difficulty swallowing. That being said, it’s important to get a professional diagnosis before you assume you have GERD and begin a GERD treatment diet.

Can a doctor tell if you have GERD?

The only way to determine whether you have GERD or some other medical condition is to visit a doctor. Doctors may use an esophagram, upper endoscopy, esophageal manometry, ambulatory 24-hour pH probe, or esophageal impedance-pH study to diagnose GERD. The GERD test your doctor uses depends on the doctor as well as your current medical condition. To learn more about the diagnostic tests that doctors use to diagnose GERD, consult your primary care provider.

Can a blood test detect GERD?

Typically, GERD is diagnosed by using tests that focus on the condition of the eshopagus, such as an X-ray or endoscopy. Some GERD tests may be focused on measuring the pH levels in your stomach and esophagus to determine how much reflux your esophageal lining is being exposed to. These tests include an esophagram, upper endoscopy, and esophageal manometry.

Blood tests aren’t typically used to diagnose GERD because GERD isn’t a virus or a bacterial infection. If a patient is experiencing acid reflux that’s causing damage to their esophageal lining, they have GERD. If you’re experiencing acid reflux but it’s not causing damage to your esophageal lining, your doctor may diagnose you with non-erosive GERD.

Can a chest x-ray detect GERD?

There are a handful of tests doctors may use to detect GERD, some of which involve X-ray imaging. An esophagram is an X-ray that’s taken of your esophagus using barium to help doctors get a look inside your esophagus. You start by swallowing a cup of liquid, which doctors will watch as it travels through your esophagus and down to your stomach.

Keep in mind that your doctor may use other GERD tests to diagnose your GERD. If you’re uncomfortable with a particular type of test, you can talk to your doctor about using another test to diagnose GERD. Either way, getting a diagnosis as soon as possible is an essential part of treating GERD.

Doctor with patient

Wrapping Up

If you think you may have GERD, the best thing you can do is get a diagnosis from a doctor as early as possible. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can talk to your doctor about treatment options. You should also talk to your doctor about GERD vs. NERD if you’re experiencing NERD.

Minimizing the effects of GERD is about making small changes, such as changes to your diet and other daily habits. The GERD pillow from MedCline can also help relieve acid reflux and reduce damage to your esophageal lining. If you’re living with GERD, MedCline can help you get relief and live a happy, healthy life.



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