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Gastroesophageal Reflux: Tests and Diagnosis

What tests are used to diagnose gastroesophageal reflux?

Most of the time no tests are required to determine if a child has reflux. If they have common symptoms, a discussion of medical history and physical exam are enough to make the diagnosis. Often a doctor will recommend medications which decrease acid in the stomach to see if the child improves.

If a child has persistent vomiting or weight loss, a set of X-rays called an “upper GI series” are taken. During this test, the child drinks barium, a liquid that can be seen on an X-ray to evaluate the anatomy of the GI tract. This helps doctors rule out an anatomical problem as the source of reflux.

A test called a pH probe and impedance studies are done to determine how much reflux a child has by measuring the amount of stomach acid in the esophagus, to see if other complaints are caused by reflux and sometimes to determine if treatment is working.

Endoscopy is performed to determine if there is inflammation of the esophagus or stomach and to determine if there is an underlying cause of the reflux. During an endoscopy, a tiny camera is passed through a child’s digestive system and down into the stomach to look at the inside of these organs. Usually, endoscopy is performed under anesthesia.

Esophageal and gastric motility testing can be done to determine if muscular contractions are moving food through the GI tract appropriately.

How do doctors at Children’s Hospital Colorado make a diagnosis?

The doctors at Children’s Colorado Digestive Health Institute look at a child’s growth and development, take a thorough history and perform a physical examination. That is often enough to diagnose reflux. If further testing is required, our doctors are able to perform and evaluate any of the above testing as needed.