What Acid Reflex Sufferers Should Know About the Bernstein Test

Everything You Need to Know About Being Tested for Acid Reflux

A woman shows signs of heartburn.
A woman shows signs of heartburn. Universal Images Group/Getty Images

The Bernstein test, also called acid perfusion test, is a diagnostic procedure used to try to reproduce the symptoms of heartburn. Usually performed in a gastroenterology laboratory, the procedure can help to determine whether your heartburn symptoms are caused by acid coming up from the stomach and irritating the esophagus. It is usually done along with other tests that measure esophageal function.

Here's what you need to know about the Bernstein test and its aftermath.

How Do You Prepare for the Bernstein Test?

Preparation for the Bernstein test is limited to short-term fasting. You will be asked to not eat or drink anything for 8 hours before the test.

How Is the Test Performed?

A nasogastric (NG) tube is inserted through your nose and down into your esophagus. When the tube is in place, a diluted solution of hydrochloric acid (similar to stomach acid) is passed through the NG tube and into your esophagus. You will be asked if there is any pain or discomfort.

Next, a saline (salt water) solution is passed through the NG tube and into your esophagus, and you will again be asked if there is any pain or discomfort. After your responses are noted, the NG tube is removed.

What Should You Expect During the Test?

Don't be surprised if you feel discomfort during most of the procedure. First, you may experience a gagging sensation when the tube is being placed.

There is a risk of gagging or vomiting, which is why fasting beforehand is important. Then, since the purpose of the Bernstein's test is to recreate acid reflux, there is the possibility that you will have some heartburn. Afterward, your throat might also be sore.

What Do the Results of the Bernstein Test Mean?

The results of this procedure can mean one of three things:

  • If you experience no pain with either solution, this usually means your esophagus is healthy and no irritation is present.
  • If you experience pain with the acid solution but not the saline solution, this can mean that your heartburn is probably due to acid reflux.
  • If you experience pain with both the acid and saline solutions, your doctor will need to perform further tests to determine the cause of your heartburn symptoms.

More Related Acid Reflux Resources

What is Acid Reflux?

Other Diagnostic Tests for GERD

More About Acid Reflux Symptoms and Diagnosis

Sources:

Carol Ann Rinzler, Ken DeVault, MD. Heartburn & Reflux for Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2004. Print.

Peikin, M.D., Steven R.. Gastrointestinal Health. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1999. Print.

"Understanding Your GI Tract ." The American College of Gastroenterology. 13 Apr 2009.

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