Technology can assist in diagnosis of heartburn, acid reflux and GERD

November 25, 2013 Vicki Lai, BSN, RN, CCRN

You may frequently interchange the terms heartburn, acid reflux and GERD, but it’s important to know if your heartburn is chronic and recurring.  Heartburn is a symptom we experience when acid from the stomach passes up through the esophageal sphincter into the esophagus, known as acid reflux.  For some people this can be acid that passes only a few inches up the esophagus or all the way to the mouth.  When acid from your stomach comes up as high as your mouth, you run the risk of aspiration (when fluids either going down to your stomach or coming up from your stomach enters your trachea and into your lungs). 

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is described as severe or chronic acid reflux. Severe means that it happens when we have had a change in our body, like a pregnancy that causes pressure on our stomach forcing stomach content up into the esophagus. Chronic may mean there is a mechanical problem like a weak esophageal sphincter or a hiatal hernia that allows leakage into the esophagus. 

Whether intermittent, severe or chronic, acid reflux can feel miserable if it is not controlled and it can also cause cancer. We all suffer from heartburn from time to time, but when heartburn happens regularly or does not resolve with lifestyle or diet changes you may need to seek the assistance of a physician who can help you resolve it. Thankfully over the last 20 years, physicians’ ability to diagnose and treat these conditions has benefited by some excellent technology.

The first step to diagnosis for GERD is an endoscopy.  The physician will pass a tube with a camera on the tip from your mouth into your esophagus.  This allows the physician to visualize the esophagus and to take samples of the tissue.  In addition, your physician may decide to monitor the acid in your esophagus for 48 hours by using Bravo® pH monitoring. This enables your physician to determine the frequency and the duration of the acid levels in your esophagus and will determine if you have GERD and its severity.

Bravo® technology is amazing; the physician will deploy this monitoring device by attaching it to the side of the esophagus.  The device is only about an inch long and creates no discomfort. The device uses wireless technology to transmit the acid measurement to a recording device you will wear on your belt for the next 48 hours.  You will be required to keep a diary to track your activity, meals and when you sense heartburn, cough or regurgitation.  When you return the monitor, a technician will download the data for the physician to analyze. In 3 to 10 days you naturally pass the device without any notice what so ever.

If you are suffering with heartburn, reflux or GERD, you can always call the Swedish Digestive Health Network where we have an excellent team of providers who can help you to improve or eliminate the discomfort and prevent cancer from developing due to chronic acid reflux.

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