GERD Is Often Not Diagnosed

For a variety of reasons, many people who suffer from GERD are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. Some are misdiagnosed with ulcers, while others are misdiagnosed with sinus disease and even heart or psychiatric problems. Sometimes patients are told they are "just fine" and sent home. As a result, they don't get relief from their chronic heartburn and the problem may worsen.

For example, Clarisse, thirty-three, told me that she had been sick for over four years before gaining any relief. First she saw a cardiologist, who thought that she was experiencing heart spasms because she described her pain as feeling like a fist pressing down on her sternum. But he was wrong: all the cardiac tests came out normal.

Next Clarisse saw an internist, who was certain she had an ulcer and put her on Tagamet for eight weeks. That didn't help much. Then Clarisse had ultrasounds of her gallbladder, pancreas, and liver-all normal.

Becoming increasingly frustrated, Clarisse paid a visit to doctor number three, a physician who suspected GERD. The doctor put on Tagament again, and again Clarisse found little relief. He had diagnosed the problem correctly, but didn't treat it seriously or properly.

Finally, four years later, in exasperation and desperation, Clarisse saw doctor number four, who at last gave her some help and relief for her problem. This doctor told Clarisse that she needed to take stronger medications, to change her diet, and to elevate her bed at night.

Clarisse followed these recommendation and at last feels better. But she still remembers the intense frustration she felt, along with the pain and physical suffering, as she struggled to find a physician who was willing and able to treat her problem.

Hundreds of other patients have stories similar to Clarisse's. These patients have gone from doctor to doctor in a fruitless quest to relieve their increasingly worse pain. Often they have begun to wonder if the problem could be all in their head and if they might be better off with a psychiatrist.

Of course, psychiatrists are medical doctors, so they can treat GERD. But if the psychiatrist instead focuses on a possible emotional issue, the GERD will remain untreated and the patient will become sicker and sicker. The illness can progress until he or she has a severely eroded esophagus. It's shocking, but we see this kind of situation happening every day to too many people.