Heartburn FAQs (cont.)
Aren't there any tests for heartburn?
If it is obvious from the symptoms that a person has heartburn, no tests or
exams may be necessary. Advice in regard to lifestyle modifications, diet, or medications
may begin immediately.
If your health care professional is not sure about the diagnosis, or if he or
she is concerned about damage done by chronic heartburn, tests may be ordered. This is true especially if
the patient has already been prescribed medications that are not relieving the heartburn.
There is no simple blood test for heartburn. The tests used to diagnose heartburn include the following:
- Upper GI (gastrointestinal) endoscopy: While the patient is lightly sedated, a thin tube is passed down
the esophagus. The tube has a light and a tiny camera on the end. The camera sends pictures of
the esophagus to a video monitor. The doctor can then see how much damage has been done to the esophagus from stomach acid. The
endoscopy also shows other causes of heartburn, such as infection, and whether
the patient has any complications of heartburn, such as bleeding. Some problems can actually be treated with the endoscope.
- Upper GI series: An upper GI series is a series of
the patient's chest and abdomen taken after a liquid that coats the inside of
the esophagus and stomach is swallowed. This liquid provides contrast so that any problems are easier to see.
- Esophageal manometry: An esophageal manometry test measures the strength of the LES and the contraction movement of the esophagus after a swallow. This test usually is done if an upper GI endoscopy shows nothing abnormal but
the patient continues to have pain.
- 24-hour pH monitoring: This test measures the strength of the
patient's stomach acid. A very thin tube is passed through the nose into the esophagus and left in place for the next 24 hours. During this period, the test measures the amount of acid back-up that occurs while
the patient goes about his or her regular activities, including eating. Another version of this test uses a tiny capsule to measure acid back-up. The doctor uses an endoscope to attach the bean-sized capsule to
the esophagus. The capsule measures pH levels and delivers readings by radio wave to a receiver you wear on your belt. After about 48 hours, the capsule detaches and passes harmlessly through your digestive system.
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