Could You Have GERD? How Doctors Diagnose Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Frequent heartburn is not a normal part of life.

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Almost everyone gets heartburn every once in a while. How do you know if your heartburn is actually GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease? The most important thing is to see your doctor if you are having heartburn often. They can help diagnose GERD and help you find a treatment plan to prevent acid reflux complications.

How is heartburn different from GERD?

GERD is when people have heartburn (or other acid reflux symptoms) at least two to three times a week. If you get acid reflux enough, it can cause bothersome symptoms, injury to the esophagus, or even increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer.

How do doctors diagnose GERD?

To diagnose GERD, doctors will look for a "constellation" of symptoms — that is, a group of symptoms that tend to occur together.

Questions your doctor may ask

Your doctor may ask you:

Tests your doctor may use

Along with asking you about your symptoms and lifestyle habits, doctors may also perform certain procedures to diagnose GERD, such as:

  • An endoscopy, which uses a tiny camera to look inside the esophagus
  • A pH-monitoring study, which uses a thin tube inside the nose to track acid reflux in the esophagus
  • UGI series, which is an X-ray of the upper gastrointestinal tract

What happens if you have GERD?

If you’re diagnosed with GERD, your doctor may suggest certain lifestyle changes, like avoiding certain foods, having smaller, more frequent meals, or losing weight if you need to. There may also be medications that can help manage heartburn symptoms. However, lifestyle and diet changes are generally the first-line approach to treating GERD.