If you have acid reflux symptoms, it is best to visit the doctor for a proper diagnosis. Your doctor would have to check how serious your condition is by ordering a series of tests. He can then prescribe the appropriate treatment, using the results from these tests.
When you first see the doctor, he will ask you to describe if you experience a burning, warmth, heat or pain just behind the breastbone. This acid reflux symptom is commonly known as the heartburn.
If you have frequent or severe cases of heartburn, then your doctor will usually prescribe you some medications usually used to treat the more serious GERD. If your symptoms improve after taking the medications, then your doctor will usually diagnose you with acid reflux disease and do not require you to go for more testing.
However, if your symptoms become even more severe, your doctor may recommend that you see a specialist called a gastroenterologist. A gastroenterologist will perform a test called an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. This test allows him to examine the inner lining of your esophagus, stomach and the first part of your small intestine via a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope.
An endoscopy is used for many reasons. First, it is used to evaluate the esophagus for inflammation and other acid reflux complications. Second, it can be used to rule out Barretts esophagus, another acid reflux complication. Finally, it is used to rule out other diseases such as ulcers or cancer.
An endoscopy is usually ordered in the cases where if you have had symptoms for a long time, if they do not improve through medication, your symptoms come back immediately after medication is stopped or there are other serious accompanying symptoms such as weight loss, vomiting of blood or problems with swallowing.
You may also be required to go through an esophageal test. This is usually required if your doctor cannot gather enough evidence that acid reflux is causing your symptoms through the use of an endoscopy. An esophageal test is needed if your symptoms are not treated with medication, if you have frequent symptoms that put you at high risk of Barrett’s esophagus or if you need long-term therapy for you condition.
Esophageal testing includes manometry testing that can help determine how well the muscles of your esophagus move food into your stomach and how tight the valve between the esophagus and the stomach is when it closes. You will usually need this test before you undergo surgery to treat your acid reflux disease.
In addition to the use of endoscopy and through esophageal testing, pH monitoring can also be used. PH monitoring is another test, which looks at how often the stomach acid gets into the esophagus and how long it remains there.
X-rays of the esophagus or stomach are not usually taken for acid reflux disease but are sometimes used. They can be used to determine if there is another problem that can be causing your acid reflux symptoms. These problems can be a hiatal hernia or a narrowing of the esophagus, called a stricture. These X-rays are usually done as a part of a series known as an upper gastrointestinal or UGI series.
Your doctor will order the appropriate tests based on the acid reflux symptoms that you are experiencing. It is good to have an understanding about the various tests that your doctor orders for you so that you know what they are for. Together with your doctor, you can then decide which appropriate treatment to take.