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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) (cont.)

Exams and Tests

To find out if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), your doctor may first ask you questions about your symptoms, such as whether you have a frequent uncomfortable feeling of burning, warmth, heat, or pain just behind the breastbone (heartburn). If you have heartburn often, your doctor may prescribe medicines to treat GERD without doing any other tests.

If medicines don't help, you may have other tests. These may include:

  • An upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. This allows your doctor to look at the inner lining of your esophagus, your stomach, and the first part of your small intestine (duodenum) through a thin, flexible viewing tool called an endoscope.
  • Esophageal tests. These may be done to find out how well the muscles in the esophagus move food, or to monitor how often acid gets into the esophagus and how long it stays there.
  • An upper gastrointestinal series. These X-ray pictures of the esophagus and stomach may help find other problems that may be causing GERD symptoms.

Treatment Overview

Treatment for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is aimed at:

  • Reducing backflow, or reflux, of stomach acid and juices into the esophagus.
  • Preventing damage to the lining of the esophagus, or helping to heal the lining if damage has occurred.
  • Keeping GERD from coming back.
  • Preventing health problems that can occur because of GERD.

Treatment starts with changing habits, avoiding things that trigger your symptoms, and taking nonprescription medicines that reduce or block acids. If you still have symptoms after taking medicines for a few weeks, you may need prescription medicines. You may need to keep up with treatment over the long term to prevent GERD symptoms from coming back. If GERD keeps coming back or gets worse, you may want to think about surgery.

Change habits

Making lifestyle changes is an important part of treating symptoms of GERD. Quitting smoking, losing weight if you need to, and changing your eating habits can all help you feel better. For more information, see Home Treatment.

Take medicines

If you have been using nonprescription medicines to treat your symptoms for longer than 2 weeks, talk to your doctor. Stomach acid could be causing damage to your esophagus. If you have GERD symptoms often, or if they are very bad, your doctor may recommend that you use prescription medicines.

Be sure to continue to take medicines as instructed by your doctor, because stopping treatment will often bring symptoms back. For more information, see Medications.

Avoid your triggers

An important part of treating GERD is avoiding triggers. These things can include:

  • Spicy foods.
  • Fatty foods.
  • Drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol.
  • Certain medicines.

If you think that your symptoms are worse after you eat a certain food, you can stop eating that food to see if it helps.

If you think a medicine is making your symptoms worse, talk to your doctor.

Watch for changes

If your symptoms don't get better with treatment, or if they get worse, your doctor may suggest that you take your medicine more often. Or you may be switched to a higher dose or a stronger medicine.

Your doctor may also refer you to a specialist for an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. Sometimes, GERD leads to other health problems, such as Barrett's esophagus. Part of your treatment may involve more endoscopies and other tests to monitor your health.

Sometimes surgery is needed, such as when medicines don't relieve symptoms or if you're unable to take medicines over a long period of time. Surgery can have benefits but can also cause problems with swallowing and burping. Some people still need to take medicines after surgery. And some people need to have surgery again. For more information, see Surgery.

Also see:

Click here to view a Decision Point.GERD: Which Treatment Should I Use?
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