Acid Reflux Care, Treatments, And How To Save
This guide is focused on helping you understand your risk, get better outcomes, and find ways to secure more affordable care.
What Is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux is the reflux of acid from the stomach into the esophagus. The category of what is dubbed “acid reflux,” however, is much wider than that. This broader category includes many gastrointestinal issues, including gastroesophageal reflux disease, gastritis (irritation in the stomach lining), and many more.
It’s important to note that many conditions can also present as standard acid reflux. For example, h.pylori, a bacteria, can attach itself to the stomach lining, causing ulcers, pain, and bleeding. This can occasionally cause gastritis, which can present as acid reflux.
Many patients with severe acid reflux will indicate they have a burning sensation in their chest that they may confuse with cardiac pain. Other patients present by saying they have a sour taste in their mouth, a dry, hacking cough, or a feeling of phlegm in the throat that won’t go away.
Longstanding Acid Reflux can cause dysplasia or changes in the tissue in the lower esophagus. This can predispose patients to malignancy, such as esophageal cancer or stomach cancer.
Where to Start: Finding The Right Provider
It’s always best to start with a visit to your general practitioner (GP). This is especially true of Acid Reflux, as your doctor will likely suggest lifestyle modifications or medication to control your symptoms. Trying to find a specialist on your own—in this case, a gastroenterologist—is possible, but it’s a process that usually feels like you’re playing Where’s Waldo. The sea of names, practices, and groups can be daunting.
On the whole, your GP or primary care physicians (PCP) are gatekeepers to the medical community. They’re the first to diagnose your condition and provide you with a broader perspective based on your personal medical history. The more they know about you, the more effective they’ll be at diagnosing your symptoms and recommending the right next course of action. They are the ones who make your referrals to specialists they know and trust.
Using Doctor Review Sites and Cost Estimator Sites To Find A Gastroenterologist
If you do need to see a specialist, there are many things to consider when it comes to finding the right one for your treatment of Acid Reflux. If you’re just starting the process, the best way is to start with a recommendation from your GP.
If you’re comparing a few different specialists, review sites, transparency sites, and insurance cost estimator tools are a great way to understand where they stack up in regards to overall price and how successful they are at helping patients achieve positive outcomes.
The Top Doctor Review Sites For Gastroentorologists
- Medicare.gov Doctor Compare
- US News & World Report
- The Leap Frog Group (for hospitals)
Cost Estimator Tools For Acid Reflux
Your insurance company might also provide cost information as well as patient satisfaction information. These are the resources you have access to if you’re insured by a major insurance company. Note, you will need to log in to your account to access the tool.
If you aren't insured by a major carrier these tools also provide price transparency information:
When it comes to comparing costs, no one tool is always the best. The cost tools provided by your insurance provider will be the most accurate, but it's important to check all the tools to see how well your insurance is doing in terms of its discount and see the whole playing field.
Selecting The Specialist That's Right For You
Beyond cost and reviews, what are the other factors you should consider?
Start With This Checklist Of Questions
- Are they easy to access?
- What is the quality of their care?
- What do they charge?
- Are they in your network or out of it?
- Are they board certified?
- Do they have experience managing your condition(s)?
- How long have they been in business?
- Are they taking new patients?
- What is their hospital affiliation?
- Are there any red flags such as malpractice suits or sanctions?
- Are they vested in technology?
- Do they participate in electronic medical records and coordinate electronically with pharmacists, other specialists, hospitals, and you?
- Find a gastroenterologist with board certification
- Ask about clinical trials and recent research. You want to find a specialist who is knowledgeable in the field and who is well-connected to the medical community.
It’s also important to focus on how well you and your doctor get along. A good specialist is a good listener; they should not only be interested in helping your health, but also in helping you navigate the healthcare system in the best way possible.
Beyond that, there are a few specific things you should consider. It’s important to interview a few doctors first before you seal the deal.
Always Look For Practices With Support Programs
Diet and lifestyle changes often go hand in hand with medication when it comes to treating acid reflux. Anytime you need to make serious lifestyle changes, it's helpful to have support from people who specialize in diet planning and behavioral change.
Many practices now have programs that help you better understand your treatment, help you track your progress and act as an advocate who coaches you on how to achieve the best possible outcome. They do this by getting you on board and keeping you on track with your treatment plan, which helps you get better, faster.
These services are offered at no extra cost to the patient and are usually referred to as a number of different names, that all do the same thing. When you’re researching Gastroenterologists, look for:
- Health navigators
- Care navigators
- Patient navigators
- Care managers
- Chronic disease management programs
The Doctor’s Communication Skills
Make sure your gastroenterologist is a good communicator who seeks your input, asks probing questions, and answers your call (or calls you back) when you need help or information. Ask yourself this: Does the doctor answer my questions and explain complex medical issues clearly, so I can understand them?
Finding someone you feel comfortable communicating with is important for any patient/physician relationship, but it’s especially important when it comes to Acid Reflux. You will need to provide personal details about bowel movements and tell the truth about lifestyle habits that may be contributing to your condition that you may be hesitant to discuss. To have the best possible outcome, make sure you feel like your doctor is in this with you.
The Practice’s EHR (Electronic Health Record) System
What’s an EHR? EHR stands for electronic health records. Back in 2009, the federal government passed a law called HITECH (the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health), which basically mandated that doctors start to use electronic health record systems.
About 80% of physicians now use a “certified EHR”. EHR’s allow doctors on the same system to easily and instantly share charts, notes and your medical history. Finding a specialist that’s on your hospital and GP’s EHR will make communication between doctors a whole lot easier.
Ask the specialist’s practice which EHR they use and then cross compare that to the doctors you’ve already established a relationship with. Here’s a list of the most popular EHRs:
Is it essential that your doctors are on the same EHR? No. But it will make your quality of life, and the doctor’s ability to communicate easier.
Alliances within the Medical Community
Gastroenterologists often need to communicate with your other healthcare providers, such as your primary care provider. Ask about their ties to other medical professionals and what hospitals they’re affiliated with. This is important because if your specialist uses the same electronic medical records (EMR) system as your primary care provider, that higher degree of coordination will save time and increase communication—both of which can lead to a better outcome for you!
A good gastroenterologist will be on top of all the latest research and developments in the space. They should also be well informed about clinical trials being done on meds, in case you’re eligible to participate in a study.
Whether They’re A Solo Practice or Multi-Physician Practice
A multi-physician practice will have better coverage or physician availability for patients if there is an urgent need. Though, if your condition is well maintained, this may not be as important of a consideration when choosing a doctor.
In addition, many specialists are outpatient providers, which means there are a few things you need to consider before choosing a practice to visit:
- Is it in network?
- Do they offer discounts?
What To Expect From A Visit With A Gastroenterologist
How to Prepare For An Effective Visit
Visiting a gastroenterologist with concerns about Acid Reflux can be challenging because you’re clearly experiencing pain or discomfort as the driver of your appointment. Here are some tips to improve your experience:
- Be honest about your habits around the main risk factors for Acid Reflux: coffee consumption, alcohol consumption, smoking status, and diet (eating spicy foods). If your doctor doesn’t know the truth, they can’t help you.
- Keep a log of your symptoms and any medications you’ve tried in the past, including over-the-counter ones.
- Tell your doctor about any other symptoms you’ve had along with the Acid Reflux symptoms—such as changes in your bowel habits or blood in your stool.
How To Talk To Your Doctor
While most of us are used to relying on our doctor’s to guide the conversation, the only way to make sure you’re getting the best care is to speak up. Most doctors and practices are trained in the SBAR method. Use it to organize your thoughts.
- Situation: take ten seconds to explain your ailment
- Background: provide context with your medical health record
- Assessment: describe the specific problem/situation
- Recommendation: explain what you want to do about it and when
How Acid Reflux is Diagnosed and What to Expect
Every patient is unique, so every office visit will be, too. That said, there are building blocks of treating Acid Reflux that are standard. It’s important to understand this process and why each step is being taken. Remember that you have the power to gut check a particular test based on your level of symptoms.
- Your doctor will ask about family and health history
- You doctor should start with questions about your symptoms, health habits, and family history. If you have been keeping a record of your symptoms or have any alarming symptoms to report—such as blood in the stool, changes in appetite, weight loss, or persistent nausea. For example, if your stools have a coffee ground-like appearance, you could be passing digestive blood and have an upper GI bleed. Be thorough.
- Every diagnosis then moves to a physical exam
- Acid Reflux is a condition on its own, but it’s also a symptom of other health problems that can be more severe. Your doctor should conduct an extensive physical exam to make sure you don’t have any underlying issues that are contributing to your esophageal pain.
- Sometimes, your doctor will order tests
- Your doctor will likely recommend lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medications to combat your Acid Reflux, if it’s your first time having symptoms. If those don’t do the trick or if your symptoms worsen, your doctor may order an upper endoscopy (EGD), which will likely be done via a GI referral. Oftentimes, an EGD is accompanied by a biopsy.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor Ask You Discuss The Diagnosis And Treatment Options
- What is the test for?
- How many times have you done this procedure?
- When will I get the results?
- Why do I need this treatment?
- Are there any alternatives?
- What are the possible complications?
- Which hospital is best for my needs?
- How do you spell the name of that drug?
- Are there any side effects?
- Will this medicine interact with medicines that I’m already taking?
- What is my diagnosis?
- What are my treatment options?
- What are the benefits of each option? What are the side effects?
- Will I need a test? What is the test for? What will the results tell me?
- What will the medicine you are prescribing do?
- How do I take it? Are there any side effects?
- Why do I need surgery? Are there other ways to treat my condition? How often do you perform this surgery?
- Do I need to change my daily routine?
How to Save On Diagnostic Testing
If you have health insurance, make sure you are staying in network. If you don’t have insurance, or haven’t met your deductible yet, these other tactics are a great way to lower the cost of your exam:
- Ask for the cash-pay price; you might receive a discount of up to 30% if you can pay upfront
- Ask if the facility offers a payment plan
- See if the facility provides any assistance programs
Esophagram and Upper Endoscopy Costs
How much do most diagnostic procedures cost? It varies from case to case, but here's a rough idea of the national averages, reported by MD Save.
Treating Acid Reflux
Common Prescription Treatments for Acid Reflux and How Much They Cost
Your doctor will discuss lifestyle changes that could help improve your Acid Reflux before prescribing medication or in tandem with prescribing medication.
There are also many over-the-counter remedies patients use to treat Acid Reflux, and your doctor may suggest you try one before moving onto a prescription. Common examples include Tums, Pepto-Bismol, and more. (Remember—there’s a reason Tums come in a mint roll. You have to keep popping them. If your symptoms persist, you may need something stronger.)
From there, your doctor may prescribe a more powerful medication. Here is a brief overview of the main classes of drugs used to treat Acid Reflux (and how much they cost).
What To Ask Your Doctor About Your Medication
- Do I need medication, or are there other ways I can control my Acid Reflux?
- If I do need medication, what kind?
- Will an over-the-counter remedy work for me?
- What side effects can I expect?
- When is the best time of day to take the medication? And how often?
- How long do I need to remain on this medication if my Acid Reflux improves?
- What alarm symptoms should I watch out for as I start this treatment?
Common Drug Classes
- Proton Pump Inhibitors (like Zantac): You normally take a PPI in the morning with a full glass of water.
- H2 Blockers (like Pepcid): You normally take an H2 Blocker twice daily.
Both of these medications do the same thing. They both decrease the acid secretion in the stomach, but they just do it in a different way. Note that anecdotal evidence shows that you don’t want to be on PPIs too long. If you abruptly stop this medication after a couple months, you could see a withdraw from the symptoms that could mimic the initial Reflux pain.
Always consult your doctor when you begin or want to discontinue a medication, and they will advise the safest and effective way to do so.
Common Prescription Treatments For Acid Reflux And How Much They Cost
Note that in no way is this a full list of all the available drugs used to treat this condition, but it will give you an idea of what you may encounter price-wise. Always talk to your doctor about the benefits and side effects—including the cost—of medications they prescribe.
Saving On Prescription Drugs
Whether your health insurance covers prescription medication or you have to pay out of pocket, drug cards are one of the most effective way to save on Rx. See our how drug cards on our How to Save page.
Drug cards aren't the only way you can save on prescriptions, though. There are tons of insider tricks you can follow, starting with asking your doctor the right questions. See our guide to the questions you should be asking to save money on your prescriptions.
Lifestyle Changes That Will Improve Your Health
Sometimes the easiest way to lower the cost of healthcare is simply not to get sick. That’s not always possible. But, the good news is that many times, Acid Reflux symptoms can be minimized by making lifestyle changes.
Your doctor will likely recommend the following:
- Cut back on or eliminating your coffee consumption
- Cut back on or eliminating your alcohol consumption
- Stop smoking
- Limit or avoid eating spicy foods or other triggers, such as tomato-based foods or chocolate
Living With A Chronic Condition
Living with a chronic condition can be incredibly difficult. Being diagnosed with Acid Reflux, or any GI condition, can be stressful and scary, but the good news is that having the diagnosis means you can begin to make changes that will positively affect your life.
When it comes to receiving care and being able to afford the cost of care, you have many more options than you think.
We continually update this guide with the latest tools, resources and savings tips. If you have a story to share about your treatment or how you’ve Uncovered better healthcare, join our community and share it!