Three out of every 10 people experience heartburn on occasion, so it can be somewhat arbitrary to decide when heartburn should be called acid reflux disease.
Also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), acid reflux disease is a chronic irritation of the lining of a person's esophagus by stomach acid. Usually, it's just annoying. GERD can, however, have serious consequences, including esophagitis and Barrett's esophagus. Barrett's esophagus is a condition that increases the likelihood of esophageal cancer.
The hiatus is an opening in the diaphragm (a muscle separating the abdomen and chest) that the esophagus, or swallowing tube, passes through to reach the stomach. If the hiatus weakens and stretches, part of the stomach and/or the esophagus can squeeze into the chest cavity, producing a hiatal hernia.
There are two main types of hiatal hernias: sliding and paraesophageal (next to the esophagus).
In a sliding hiatal hernia, the stomach and the esophagus slide up into the chest through the...
People with acid reflux disease often have some or all of the following symptoms:
Pain when or difficulty swallowing
Bad breath and/or bad taste in the mouth
How Is Acid Reflux Diagnosed?
If you experience classic symptoms of acid reflux disease -- chronic heartburn and regurgitation -- without any troublesome complications, it may be relatively easy for your doctor to make an acid reflux diagnosis.
A few people have GERD that doesn't respond to treatment. Or they may have other concerning symptoms, such as weight loss, difficulty swallowing, anemia, or black stools. If you're one of them, you may need any of the following tests.
Diagnosing Acid Reflux With a Barium Swallow Radiograph
Your doctor may decide to use a special X-ray procedure -- the barium swallow radiograph -- to rule out any structural problems in your esophagus. In this painless acid reflux test, you will be asked to swallow a solution of barium. The barium enables doctors to take X-rays of your esophagus.
Barium swallow isn't a surefire method of diagnosing GERD. Only one out of every three people with GERD has esophageal changes that are visible on X-rays.