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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 X-rays 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.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/27/2016
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