A person with chronic heartburn is also likely to have GERD. (Occasional heartburn does not necessarily indicate the presence of GERD.) The following is the general way to diagnose GERD:
- A physician can usually diagnose GERD if the patient finds relief from persistent heartburn and acid regurgitation after taking antacids for short periods of time.
- If the diagnosis is uncertain but the physician still suspects GERD, a drug trial using a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) medication, such as omeprazole (Prilosec) identifies 80% - 90% of people with the condition. This class of medication blocks stomach acid secretion.
Laboratory or more invasive tests, including endoscopy, may be required if:
- The diagnosis is still uncertain
- Symptoms are not typical
- Barrett's esophagus is suspected
- Complications, such as signs of bleeding or difficulty swallowing, are present
Some of these tests are described below.
Barium Swallow Radiograph
A barium swallow radiograph (x-ray) is useful for identifying structural abnormalities and erosive esophagitis. For this test, the patient drinks a solution containing barium, and then x-rays of the digestive tract are taken. This test can show stricture, active ulcer craters, hiatal hernia, erosion, or other abnormalities. However, it cannot reveal mild irritation.
Review Date: 07/11/2010
Reviewed By: Reviewed by: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.