Frequent heartburn is not a normal part of life. Here’s how GI docs learn if your acid reflux or other symptoms are actually GERD.
Spicy chicken wings. Pizza. Boozin’ until 3 A.M. If you’ve experienced heartburn before, you know that these foods and eating habits are textbook acid reflux triggers.
But what if you begin to experience heartburn regularly, even without alcohol and fried food indulgences?
“If you’re experiencing frequent symptoms, I would say twice a week or more, or you’re requiring frequent over the counter medicine, talk to your doctor about the acid reflux,” says Roshini Raj, MD, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health and co-founder of healthy living brand Tula.
People who experience heartburn or other acid reflux symptoms at least two to three times a week may have a chronic condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. If you get acid reflux enough, it can cause bothersome symptoms, injury to the esophagus, or even increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer.
“You don’t just want to sort of accept this as part of your life,” says Dr. Raj. “You want to make sure that you’re getting the correct diagnosis, evaluation, and the correct treatment.”
How Doctors Diagnose GERD
“In terms of diagnosing GERD, there’s a very typical constellation of symptoms that we ask for and different lifestyle factors,” says Dr. Raj.
Your doctor may ask you:
- How frequently you experience acid reflux symptoms
- Whether you experience heartburn symptoms at night
- If you’ve noticed specific food or eating habits that trigger your heartburn symptoms
- How frequently you eat, the size of your meals, and what you eat
- Your weight and whether it has fluctuated recently
- What medications you may be taking and if you have any other medical conditions
Along with asking you about your symptoms and lifestyle habits, doctors may also perform certain procedures to diagnose GERD, such as:
Endoscopy: An endoscopy is a test where doctors put a scope down a patient’s throat to see if there are signs of acid inflammation in the esophagus. “An endoscopy is a great test because not only does it help assess whether there is acid inflammation in the esophagus, but it’s very helpful to rule out any other causes of these potential symptoms, things like an ulcer or hernia, for example,” says Dr. Raj.
pH monitor: pH monitoring is a 24-hour study of the esophagus. The test involves inserting a thin tube through the nose and into the esophagus for 24 hours. During this time the patient keeps a diary of symptoms. This is usually used to determine the frequency of acid reflux.
UGI series: A UGI series is an X-ray of the upper gastrointestinal tract. The esophagus, stomach, and the first part of the small intestine, are made visible on X-ray film by a liquid. “Sometimes an upper GI series is ordered that looks at the upper GI tract, and it’s also helpful for diagnosing reflux and hernias,” says Dr. Raj.
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.
“I always recommend trying to do the lifestyle and diet changes first, but in many instances it’s not enough, and seeing a doctor and talking about medication options is an important thing to do,” says Dr. Raj.
Dr. Raj is a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at NYU School of Medicine, and an attending physician at NYU Langone Medical Center.
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If you are experiencing frequent symptoms,
I would say twice a week or more or
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you are acquiring frequent
00:00:08,464 --> 00:00:10,290
talk to your doctor about the acid reflux.
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Heartburn is one of the most
common symptoms of acid reflux.
00:00:20,100 --> 00:00:24,221
And it refers to a burning sensation that
occurs in the chest that is usually due
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to acid coming up from the stomach into
the esophagus, causing irritation.
00:00:29,170 --> 00:00:32,060
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD,
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is when you frequently have acid coming
up from the stomach into your esophagus.
00:00:36,580 --> 00:00:39,050
It's important to have your
acid reflux evaluated,
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because in some cases, acid reflux
can go on to more serious conditions,
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stricturing, or narrowing of
the esophagus or even esophageal cancer.
00:00:48,410 --> 00:00:52,550
In terms of diagnosing GERD, where there's
a very, kind of, typical constellation of
00:00:52,550 --> 00:00:56,250
symptoms that we ask for, and
different lifestyle factors and
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how long they've been experiencing
symptoms, how frequently.
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Do they ever wake them up at night?
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I also ask them about
their diet in general.
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If they've noticed
specific food triggers or
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if the symptoms do occur mostly after
they eat, how frequently they're eating,
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the size of their meals,
what they're eating specifically.
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Do they lay down and go to sleep very soon
after eating their last meal of the day?
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We ask about their weight, and
we measure their weight as well, or
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if there's been sudden
weight gain recently,
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any other medications they may be taking,
other medical problems.
00:01:26,830 --> 00:01:29,610
But to truly diagnose it,
we often do an endoscopy,
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a test where we actually put
a scope down someone's throat and
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look inside their esophagus to see if
there are any signs of acid inflammation.
00:01:37,005 --> 00:01:40,815
An endoscopy is a great test, because not
only does it help assess whether there is
00:01:40,815 --> 00:01:44,925
acid inflammation in the esophagus, but
it's very helpful to rule out any other
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causes of these potential symptoms, things
like an ulcer or a hernia, for example.
00:01:49,650 --> 00:01:51,650
There are other ways to diagnose it.
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There's actually something called a pH
monitor where you can actually measure
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the amount of acid that's being produced.
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Sometimes an upper GI series is ordered.
00:01:59,458 --> 00:02:02,270
That's an x-ray test that looks
at the upper GI tract, and
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that's also helpful for
diagnosing reflux and hernias.
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Some of the symptoms,
things like a sore throat or
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a change in your voice, could have
nothing to do with the acid reflux.
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They could be a sign of
another condition altogether.
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And you don't want that to be missed.
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You don't wanna just sort of
accept this as part of your life.
00:02:17,500 --> 00:02:21,008
You wanna make sure that you're getting
the correct diagnosis, evaluation, and
00:02:21,008 --> 00:02:22,071
the correct treatment.
00:02:22,071 --> 00:02:26,985
Patient education: Acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease) in adults (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. (Accessed on July 10, 2018 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/acid-reflux-gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-in-adults-beyond-the-basics)
Upper Gastrointestinal Series. John Hopkins Medicine. (Accessed on July 10, 2018 at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/test_procedures/gastroenterology/upper_gastrointestinal_series_92,P07701)