Gastroesophageal reflux disease differential diagnosis

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Ahmed Elsaiey, MBBCH [2]


GERD must be differentiated from other diseases like gastritis, peptic ulcer, crohn's disease, gastric adenocarcinoma, and gastrinoma.

Differentiating Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease from other Diseases

Differential Diagnosis
Disease Cause Symptoms Diagnosis Other findings
Pain Nausea & Vomiting Heartburn Belching or Bloating Weight loss Loss of Appetite Stools Endoscopy findings
Location Aggravating Factors Alleviating Factors
  • Spicy food
  • Tight fitting clothing

(Suspect delayed gastric emptying)

- - - - Other symptoms:


Acute gastritis Food Antacids - Black stools -
Chronic gastritis Food Antacids - H. pylori gastritis

Lymphocytic gastritis

  • Enlarged folds
  • Aphthoid erosions
Atrophic gastritis Epigastric pain - - - - H. pylori


Crohn's disease - - - - -
  • Mucosal nodularity with cobblestoning
  • Multiple aphthous ulcers
  • Linier or serpiginous ulcerations
  • Thickened antral folds
  • Antral narrowing
  • Hypoperistalsis
  • Duodenal strictures
Peptic ulcer disease

Duodenal ulcer

  • Pain aggravates with empty stomach

Gastric ulcer

  • Pain aggravates with food
  • Pain alleviates with food
- - - Gastric ulcers
  • Discrete mucosal lesions with a punched-out smooth ulcer base with whitish fibrinoid base
  • Most ulcers are at the junction of fundus and antrum
  • 0.5-2.5cm

Duodenal ulcers

Other diagnostic tests
Gastrinoma - -

(suspect gastric outlet obstruction)

- - - Useful in collecting the tissue for biopsy

Diagnostic tests

Gastric Adenocarcinoma - - Esophagogastroduodenoscopy
  • Multiple biopsies are taken to establish the diagnosis
Other symptoms
Primary gastric lymphoma - - - - - - - Useful in collecting the tissue for biopsy Other symptoms
Manifestations Diagnostic tools
  • Dysphagia for solids and liquids is the most common feature, being seen in 91 % and 85% of patients respectively[11]
  • Regurgitation of undigested food occurs in 76-91% of patients[11]
  • Cough mainly when lying down in 30%[11]
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy findings include a dilated esophagus with residual food fragments, normal mucosa and occasionally candidiasis (due to the prolonged stasis).
  • Barium swallow shows the characteristic bird's beak appearance.
Barium swallow showing bird's beak appearance - By Farnoosh Farrokhi, Michael F. Vaezi. - Idiopathic (primary) achalasia. Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases 2007, 2:38(, CC BY 2.0,
  • Retrosternal burning chest pain.
  • Cough and hoarseness of voice.
  • May present with complications such as strictures and dysphagia.[5]
  • Upper GI endoscopy shows the complications such as esophagitis and barret esophagus.
  • Esophageal manometry may show decreased tone of the lower esophageal sphincter.
  • 24-hour esophageal pH monitoring may be done to confirm the diagnosis.
Barret's esophagus - By Samir धर्म - taken from patient with permission to place in public domain, Copyrighted free use,
Esophageal carcinoma
  • Dysphagia
  • Odynophagia- fluids and soft foods are usually tolerated, while hard or bulky substances (such as bread or meat) cause much more difficulty[12]
  • Weight loss
  • Pain, often of a burning nature, may be severe and worsened by swallowing, and can be spasmodic in character
  • Nausea and vomiting[12]
  • Upper GI endoscopy and esophageal biopsy the gold standard for the diagnosis of esophageal
Corckscrew esophagus
  • Retrosternal chest pain that presents with or without food intake.[13]
  • The condition is not progressive and not causing complications.[14]
  • Barium swallow shows the characteristic corckscrew appearance of the esophagus.
Corckscrew esophagus - Case courtesy of Radswiki,, rID: 11680
Esophageal stricture
  • Patient may present with the symptoms of the underlying GERD.
  • Dysphagia and odynophagia.[15]
  • Barium esophagography provides information about the site and the diameter of the stricture before the endoscopic intervention.[16]
Peptic stricture - By Samir धर्म - From, Public Domain,
Plummer-Vinson syndrome Common symptoms of Plummer-Vinson syndrome include:[17][18][19]
  • Difficulty swallowing (more for solids)
  • Weakness
  • Pain
  • Burning sensation in mouth
  • Dry tongue
  • Painful cracks in the angles of a dry mouth
  • Pale color of the skin

Less cmmon symptoms

  • Cold intolerance
  • Reduced resistance to infection
  • Altered behavior
  • Craving for for unusual items (such as ice or cold vegetables)
Lab tests are consistent with the diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia.

Findings on an x-ray (barium esophagogram) suggestive of esophageal web/strictures associated with Plummer-Vinson syndrome appear as either:

Plummer-Vinson syndrome (Source: Case courtesy of Dr Hani Salam, <a href=""></a>. From the case <a href="">rID: 14029</a>)


  1. Sugimachi K, Inokuchi K, Kuwano H, Ooiwa T (1984). "Acute gastritis clinically classified in accordance with data from both upper GI series and endoscopy". Scand J Gastroenterol. 19 (1): 31–7. PMID 6710074.
  2. Sipponen P, Maaroos HI (2015). "Chronic gastritis". Scand J Gastroenterol. 50 (6): 657–67. doi:10.3109/00365521.2015.1019918. PMC 4673514. PMID 25901896.
  3. Sartor RB (2006). "Mechanisms of disease: pathogenesis of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis". Nat Clin Pract Gastroenterol Hepatol. 3 (7): 390–407. doi:10.1038/ncpgasthep0528. PMID 16819502.
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  6. Ramakrishnan K, Salinas RC (2007). "Peptic ulcer disease". Am Fam Physician. 76 (7): 1005–12. PMID 17956071.
  7. Banasch M, Schmitz F (2007). "Diagnosis and treatment of gastrinoma in the era of proton pump inhibitors". Wien Klin Wochenschr. 119 (19–20): 573–8. doi:10.1007/s00508-007-0884-2. PMID 17985090.
  8. Dicken BJ, Bigam DL, Cass C, Mackey JR, Joy AA, Hamilton SM (2005). "Gastric adenocarcinoma: review and considerations for future directions". Ann Surg. 241 (1): 27–39. PMC 1356843. PMID 15621988.
  9. Ghimire P, Wu GY, Zhu L (2011). "Primary gastrointestinal lymphoma". World J Gastroenterol. 17 (6): 697–707. doi:10.3748/wjg.v17.i6.697. PMC 3042647. PMID 21390139.
  10. Ferri, Fred (2015). Ferri's clinical advisor 2015 : 5 books in 1. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier/Mosby. ISBN 978-0323083751.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Boeckxstaens GE, Zaninotto G, Richter JE (2013). "Achalasia". Lancet. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60651-0. PMID 23871090.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Napier KJ, Scheerer M, Misra S (2014). "Esophageal cancer: A Review of epidemiology, pathogenesis, staging workup and treatment modalities". World J Gastrointest Oncol. 6 (5): 112–20. doi:10.4251/wjgo.v6.i5.112. PMC 4021327. PMID 24834141.
  13. Matsuura H (2017). "Diffuse Esophageal Spasm: Corkscrew Esophagus". Am. J. Med. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2017.08.041. PMID 28943381.
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