Diagnosis of Esophagitis

Diagnosis of esophagitis often involves taking a complete medical history (including a history of symptoms) and performing a physical examination and diagnostic tests. Tests that are used to diagnose esophagitis include upper endoscopy and upper GI series.

In upper endoscopy, a device that consists of a thin tube with a tiny light and camera attached (called an endoscope) is used to examine the lining of the esophagus. Patients should avoid eating or drinking for at least 6 hours before undergoing upper endoscopy.

Prior to the procedure, patients often are sedated and a local anesthetic is used to numb the throat. The endoscope is then inserted into the esophagus through the mouth, allowing the physician to visualize the esophageal lining.

In some cases, tiny instruments are passed through the endoscope and are used to surgically remove tissue samples for microscopic evaluation. This procedure is called upper endoscopy with biopsy. Upper endoscopy also can be used to diagnose, peptic ulcer disease and Barrett's esophagus.

An upper GI series (also called barium swallow) also can be used to diagnose esophagitis. In this procedure, the patient drinks an oral contrast solution (barium) and a series of x-rays of the esophagus, stomach, and the upper portion of the small intestine (called the duodenum) is taken. Barium, which coats the esophageal lining, helps provide clearer images, making it easier to detect damage (e.g., inflammation, ulcers).

Patients usually are instructed not to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before undergoing an upper GI series. This procedure, which usually takes 1 to 2 hours to perform, also can be used to diagnose hiatal hernia, esophageal stricture, and cancer of the esophagus.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 16 Apr 2008

Last Modified: 14 Sep 2015