Types of Specialists & When to See Them
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common condition that causes acid reflux (heartburn) at least several times a week. GERD symptoms can get in the way of daily activities or getting a good night’s sleep.
If heartburn is a daily or almost-daily part of your life, it may be time to see a GERD doctor.
In this article, we’ll go over the types of specialists who treat GERD. We’ll also clarify the symptoms that might indicate you need a specialist.
When you eat or drink, food is transported from your mouth to your stomach through a tube called the esophagus. GERD symptoms occur when stomach contents flow back up through the esophagus into the chest. This causes the burning sensation most associated with GERD.
Anyone can get an occasional bout of heartburn. GERD differs from ordinary heartburn in frequency and, in some instances, severity.
These common symptoms of GERD may require consultation with a specialist:
- heartburn that occurs more than twice weekly
- heartburn that doesn’t get better with antacid use
- acid reflux that wakes you up at night
- regurgitation of sour liquid or food particles from the stomach into the throat and mouth
- chest pain
- sore throat
- difficulty swallowing
- feeling like you have a lump in your throat
- bad breath
Lifestyle changes that may help GERD symptoms
GERD symptoms may lessen with lifestyle changes, such as:
- maintaining a moderate weight
- trying to quit smoking, if you smoke
- eliminating or reducing consumption of coffee, alcohol, and carbonated beverages
- eating smaller meals, especially at night
- not eating late at night
- not lying down for at least 3 hours after eating
- eliminating spicy, fatty, and acidic foods from your diet
If lifestyle changes don’t eliminate these symptoms, seeing a GERD specialist may help. A GERD doctor can do medical testing that uncovers the underlying cause of your symptoms. They can also provide advice on how to handle GERD.
Babies, children, and adults can have GERD. Talking with your general healthcare practitioner (GP) or with your child’s pediatrician is a good first step for GERD treatment. They may prescribe medications that reduce symptoms, plus they can provide insight about next steps.
In many instances, your regular physician will recommend seeing a gastroenterologist or other type of specialist for testing and treatment.
Gastroenterologists are board certified physicians who receive specialized training to treat conditions of the gastrointestinal tract and liver. Gastroenterologists are the type of specialists usually seen for diagnosis and treatment of GERD.
Based on your symptoms, your GP may instead recommend you see an otolaryngologist. They are also known as an ENT, or ear, nose, and throat specialist. If you have stomach acid that spills into your throat or voice box, you may have laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) instead of, or in addition to, GERD. Otolaryngologists have experience diagnosing and treating both conditions.
Nutritionist or dietitian
Coaching from a nutritionist or registered dietitian may also be beneficial for helping you maintain a moderate weight. Nutritional specialists can also recommend lists of foods to eat or avoid for GERD management. These types of specialists don’t take the place of gastroenterologists or ENTs. They can, however, help with lifestyle choices and symptom management.
GERD doctors, such as gastroenterologists, receive extensive training to perform endoscopic procedures and interpret their results. GERD specialists are equipped to do diagnostic tests that uncover underlying causes and conditions that mimic GERD.
Conditions that may seem like GERD include:
Diagnostic tests that a GERD specialist may do include:
- Upper endoscopy. This procedure is done under light anesthesia. A flexible tube fitted with a small camera is placed into the esophagus to examine it. Your doctor may remove a tiny piece of esophageal tissue for biopsy during an upper endoscopy.
- Esophageal pH monitoring. For this test, a small monitor is placed into your esophagus to analyze how your gastrointestinal system manages and regulates the flow of stomach acid over the course of several days.
- Esophageal manometry. During this test, a tube is placed into the esophagus through the nose to measure the strength of the esophageal muscles.
- Esophogram. For this test, you will first drink a barium solution and then have an X-ray of your upper digestive tract.
- Ambulatory 24-hour pH probe. During this test, a tube is placed into the esophagus through your nose and left in place for 24 hours. A pH sensor in the tube measures acid levels in the esophagus.
After testing and diagnosis, you may be placed on medication and monitored. In some instances, a specialist will recommend that you continue to see them for monitoring and treatment. In other cases, they may instead recommend you see your GP regularly for monitoring.
If your symptoms don’t improve, a GERD specialist may recommend other treatments, such as surgery or a Transoral Incisionless Fundoplication (TIF). Though not as widely used as surgery, a TIF procedure (also called a Stretta procedure) is starting to be used more often in clinical practices. This minimally invasive, nonsurgical procedure repairs the anti-reflux barrier inside the stomach.
In some instances, diagnostic testing may show that a hiatal hernia is causing GERD symptoms. Hiatal hernias are often treated with an outpatient laparoscopy procedure, such as a
Surgery for GERD and its underlying causes can only be done by a GERD specialist.
Your GP may be able to recommend a GERD specialist to you. If you have health insurance, your insurer may also be able to provide a list of specialists practicing in your area. You may also wish to research patient recommendations online.
What to consider when choosing a specialist
When choosing a specialist, take these considerations into account:
- How many years have they been practicing their specialty?
- How experienced are they in treating your condition?
- Have any complaints been logged against them in the Federation of State Medical Boards’ DocInfo database?
- If surgery is required, how many times a week do they perform the procedure you need?
- Do they accept your insurance?
- How comfortable do they make you feel?
- Are they patient enough to answer all your questions without rushing you through the appointment?
- Does their office follow local COVID-19 safety guidelines?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) involves excessive or extreme bouts of heartburn.
A GERD doctor such as a gastroenterologist is usually the best choice for diagnosing and treating this condition. In some instances, an ENT specialist may also be used to diagnose and treat GERD.