PH Test for Acid Reflux

Here's what to expect if your doctor orders a pH test

The esophagus leads into the stomach.
The esophagus leads into the stomach.. Science Picture Co/Getty Images

The pH test for acid reflux measures how often and for how long stomach acid enters the esophagus, and how well it clears the esophagus. Done with a thin, plastic tube armed with a sensor, it measures the amount of acid backing up into the esophagus.

This procedure is often done when GERD symptoms are present but an endoscope exam doesn't detect any evidence of reflux disease. Or, if uncommon symptoms, such as chest pain, asthma, and other throat issues, present themselves.

What can be expected if the doctor orders pH monitoring?

Your physician has order an esophageal pH test. Warning: it may be a little uncomfortable, but hopefully it will lend insight into what is going on inside you.

Before your procedure, do not eat for four to six hours. Also, if you are taking any PPIs, antacids, calcium channel blockers, nitrates, or any other medications, speak to your doctor about whether or not you should take them before the test, as they may effect the pH test outcome.

Now, for the esophageal pH test. Basically, there are two ways that the doctor places the probe in your body. The first way is a bit low-tech: The doctor inserts a tubular probe through the nose and into the esophagus. The tube stops just above the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This may occur during endoscopy by clipping a pH monitoring device to the lining of the esophagus. The tube is then left in place for 24 hours.

During that time, you are encouraged to engage in normal activities.

The second way is a bit more high-tech: With an endoscope, the doctor places a disposable capsule into the lining of your esophagus. It wirelessly records data about symptoms and when you eat or lie down to an unit that you wear on your belt with a touch of a button.

Either way, you will be keeping a record of any suspected acid reflux issues, and other symptoms, such as coughing and wheezing. This can help the doctor determine if acid reflux is related to unexplained asthma or other respiratory symptoms.

Afterward, your throat may feel a little sore. Sucking on lozenges or hard candy may help soothe it. Then, at your next doctor's appointment you should receive the results of your esophageal pH test.

Other diagnostic tests:

"Heartburn Or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." The American College of Gastroenterology. 1 Feb 2007.

"Heartburn? Could It Be GERD? Understanding Heartburn and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." AN417/AGA/GERD/Booklet 12/3/03. American Gastroenterological Association. 1 Feb 2007.

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