Heartburn (Acid Reflux) | What It Is, Causes, Symptoms, Complications & Treatment Options

How can your doctor diagnose heartburn?

Diagnosis of heartburn is easy, but it needs to exclude other confusing conditions, such as heart attack or GERD.

Your doctor begins by taking a detailed medical history from you. He will ask you when and how the heartburn started (sudden or gradually), its course (progressive or regressive), duration, frequency, what increases, and what decreases. He will also ask about any associated symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, chest pain, cough, voice changes, appetite changes, and weight loss.

After history taking, your doctor will examine your body systems to exclude confusing causes of heartburn and assess if there are any complications.

History and examination provide enough information for your doctor to establish a diagnosis and start a management plan. But, some findings may suggest underlying causes, like GERD, or complications, such as stricture or cancer, and require further investigations.

These investigations include:

− X-ray

Your doctor will order x-ray imaging to look at the condition and shape of your upper gut, including the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.

− Endoscopy

In this procedure, your doctor passes a flexible tube (scope) with a small fiberoptic camera on its tip into your throat to view your esophagus and stomach. By endoscope, your doctor can see ulcers and strictures. He can also take biopsies from suspicious lesions to look for precancerous and cancerous cells.

− Esophageal PH monitoring (Ambulatory acid probe test)

Your doctor passes a small tube through your nose into your esophagus with an acid monitor on its tip. It measures when and how long the acid reflux occurs. It connects to a small computer you wear on your waist or a shoulder strap. Your doctor may recommend this technique if you have atypical symptoms, like chest or abdominal pain or asthma-like symptoms.

− Esophageal manometry

It is like PH monitoring, but it monitors the esophageal pressure and motility.

− Electrocardiogram (ECG)

Your doctor may do ECG to exclude heart attack if you are at risk.

  • After diagnosis, your doctor can start a management plan, using the best treatment options to alleviate your symptoms, eliminate the underlying cause, and prevent and treat any complications.