Physicians typically diagnose gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) based on symptoms alone. When the clinical presentation is unclear, other tests can be performed to confirm the diagnosis or exclude other disorders.
Confirmatory tests include:
Ambulatory pH Monitoring
A probe can be placed via the nose into the esophagus to record the level of acidity in the lower esophagus. Because some degree of variation in acidity is normal, and small reflux events are relatively common, such monitors must be left in place for at least a 24-hour period to confirm the diagnosis of GERD. The test is particularly useful when the patient’s symptoms can be correlated to episodes of increased esophageal acidity.
Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Series
A series of x-rays of the upper digestive system are taken after drinking a barium solution. These can demonstrate reflux of barium into the esophagus, which suggests the possibility of gastroesophageal reflux disease. More accurately, fluoroscopy can be used to document reflux in real-time.
In this test, a pressure sensor (manometer) is passed through the mouth into the esophagus and measures the pressure of the lower esophageal sphincter directly.
The esophageal mucosa can be visualized directly by passing a thin, lighted tube with a tiny camera attached (an endoscope) through the mouth to examine the esophagus and stomach. In this way, evidence of esophageal inflammation can be detected, and biopsies taken if necessary.
A small sample of tissue from the esophagus is removed. It is then studied to check for inflammation, cancer, or other problems.