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Diagnosing Acid Reflux Disease

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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.

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Understanding Heartburn -- the Basics

Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. Some of the symptoms, however, are similar to those of a heart attack or heart disease. Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus that is caused by stomach acid. This can create a burning discomfort in the upper abdomen or below the breast bone. With gravity's help, a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, keeps stomach acid in the stomach. The LES is located where the esophagus meets the stomach -- below...

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What Are the Symptoms of Acid Reflux Disease?

People with acid reflux disease often have some or all of the following symptoms:

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.

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