Doctors usually diagnose GERD by assessing symptoms. Only people with severe chronic heartburn are likely to be tested for GERD. Tests may include a series of X-rays of the stomach to look for other possible problems, such as peptic ulcers. A blood or breath test may be performed to rule out the presence of the bacteria called H. pylori.
There are also tests to measure the pH (acidity) of the esophagus and the internal pressure of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The most important diagnostic tool is the endoscope, a fibre-optic tube passed down the throat that permits the doctor to see the inside of the esophagus (a procedure called endoscopy).
People who have had regular or daily heartburn for 5 years or more should be tested for Barrett's esophagus. For patients who have this condition, many doctors perform regular checkups to look for changes that may eventually develop into cancerous growths.
Most symptoms of GERD can be managed with a combination of medications and lifestyle changes. Surgery is reserved for people with severe complications but is needed only rarely.
Medications that can be used to neutralize stomach acid are antacids (e.g., aluminum or magnesium hydroxide*, calcium carbonate, bismuth subsalicylate). Medications that can be used to reduce the production of stomach acid include H2-antagonists (e.g., cimetidine, ranitidine, famotidine, nizatidine) and proton pump inhibitors (e.g., dexlansoprazole, omeprazole, lansoprazole, pantoprazole, esomeprazole, rabeprazole).
In addition to medications, symptoms of GERD can be improved by making one or more lifestyle changes. For example:
Most people can have successful treatment by taking medications and making lifestyle and diet changes.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.