The 48-Hour Bravo Esophageal pH Test: A Probe to Study Acid via Monitoring Capsule

My throat. It burns. And it’s been burning for far longer than I’d like to remember. Thing is, my doc isn’t so sure that my GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is really caused by too much acid splashing my esophagus. At one point maybe, but not anymore. No, he believes what I have is NERD, or non-erosive reflux disease. (Poetic justice?) To find out, he had me go through a study called the Bravo pH Esophageal Test.

Academic Overview

The 48-Hour Bravo pH Esophageal Test monitors the esophagus (the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach) for 48 hours in order to determine whether the heartburn I’m feeling is really acid or something else. In this case “heartburn” actually means the burning in my throat, as if I’d just swallowed battery acid, rather than in my chest, as if my heart had burst into flames. (This might indicate another condition entirely, one called LPRD, or laryngo-pharyngeal reflux disease. It’s sort of like GERD, but felt in the throat, not in the chest.)

During the test, the doctor puts a 26mm capsule down the throat and sticks it to the side of the esophagus. A monitor is then given to the patient which records the capsule’s pH readings. These will, in theory, help determine if the person has GERD. Two days later, the monitor is returned. A week later the capsule will detach itself and go through the digestive track.

For more details on the test, including getting ready, check out the Cleveland Clinic’s information site on it.

My Experience

I went over to Tampa General Hospital to get implanted with the Bravo pH capsule. I got there, as per instructions, at 1:30 P.M. Got checked in, found the waiting room which overlooked Tampa Bay and Bayshore Blvd. The Wife, there with me, cracked a smile when she realized she “could see my (her) old high school from here!” The soft music playing in the background made the scene like something out of a travel video. A few minutes later we looked at one of the nearby televisions and realized it was playing a travel video.

After an hour of watching, waiting, and enjoying the aroma of hot chocolate–especially aromatic considering I’d not eaten anything in almost 24 hours–the nurse stopped by with a device the size of a small-to-medium camera which I would, for the next two days, wear around my neck. This would be the external monitor, which would record all the transmissions sent from the tiny device which I would soon have implanted in me. Additionally it had three buttons which I would press every time I felt I had heartburn, regurgitation (food coming up to the back of my throat) or chest pain. Then she gave me a diary and told me to write down all my symptoms along with the time they occurred, making sure to use the time shown on the device itself, and not any other time piece. Beside the time, I would later find out, there was also a display of my current esophageal pH. I would later find this a very useful tool with which to experiment.

With all that said and done, I was brought in for the procedure. I laid down on a bed, clothes and all, and my gastroenterologist came in. He told me to gargle some numbing liquid–“DON’T SWALLOW IT!” he repeatedly reminded me.

“Aren’t you going to put me to sleep?”

“Nope. The procedure will take about a minute. The stuff you just gargled will numb your throat to quell your gag reflex.” As he said that, the nurse stuck a plastic ring in my mouth to keep it open, then strapped it to the back of my head. (Frighteningly S&M-ish.) Then he continued, “Alright, now I’m going to put this down your throat.” It was at that very moment that he pulled out this long, thin hoobajoob, about the size of my arm, out from under some desk. Oh, shit, I thought, as he asked me to turn to my side. “To make this a bit more comfortable I’ve lubricated the device with a bit of water-soluble KY-jelly.” Seriously, I didn’t need to hear that.

As I lay on my side, the doctor stuck the device in my mouth. When he got to the back of my throat he ordered me to swallow. As soon as I did he shoved the hoobajoob all the way down to just above my stomach. That’s when he turned the suction machine on. “Alright, now this will take about a minute, so just relax.”It took everything I had not to start heaving. All I could do was count. Seventy-two seconds later, he pulled out the hoobajoob. A monitoring device about the size of a #2 pencil’s eraser and ferule had been implanted in my esophagus. It would take about a week for it to dislodge itself and go through the Chamber of Doom.

The whole process, the laying down–the gargling stuff, the implantation–all took about ten minutes. It would be an hour before I ate or drank anything, as per doctor’s orders, seeing as the numbing agent I gargled also numbed the control valve which keeps food from accidentally finding its way into the lungs.

The Testing Period

Normal esophageal pH is somewhere between 4 and 7. If it goes lower it indicates that acid is being refluxed, since the stomach’s pH is between 1 and 2. If it goes higher it might indicate bile reflux, although the stomach sometimes as alkaline periods. (The pH of bile is above 8.) Sudden drops of pH (from 7.1 to 5.3, or 6.1 to 3.8) indicate acid reflux. During the testing period my pH went as low as 1.8 and as high as 8.6, possibly 8.8. All this as per the pH display in the Bravo monitoring device I now had hanging around my neck. (It really did look like a camera.) The vast majority of the time it stuck between 4 and 7, usually between 5 and 7. What this means, I have no idea. I will when I get my results back.

I was told to eat foods which would cause my symptoms, so the first thing I did was head to my parents’ house, where my father, a pizza restaurant owner for years, would be making pizza. It was delicious. Deeeelicious. I topped the pizza off with a small Starbucks frappuccinno. Yes, evil, I know, but these are foods I KNOW would bring about symptoms. There was one small hitch with my plan, however…

Did I tell you I have a bad gallbladder? Yeah, I do. Having it taken out sometime soon (probably in the next week). Runs in the family. Also doesn’t help that I spent more than my fair share of time pigging out to crapstacular food. Mia culpa, mia culpa. Problem now was all those highly acidic foods were also fatty enough to cause problems.

My gallbladder took its revenge on me not immediately, but rather the next day. (It holds grudges.) While I had heartburn after the pizza (the pH reading dropped as low as 2.0 for brief periods, but stayed mostly above the 4.0 mark), it wasn’t until the next morning that the problems really started. After my breakfast–a sandwich made of egg whites, wheat bread and kale, followed by a cup of vanilla almond milk–I started feeling bloated. Real bloated. Then suddenly I started having pains. I was having a gallbladder attack. This was at 9:30 A.M. It would be almost 7:00 P.M. that night before the attack passed. In the meantime, my pH fluctuated between way-too-acidic (pH 3) and way too alkaline (pH 8). Since I wasn’t able to eat or drink during this time, the test was pretty much ruined.

I tried to salvage the situation on the final day. I was feeling well enough to eat what I would regularly eat, including low-fat foods that would cause me symptoms, foods like barley, oats, and juice (although it never dawned on me to try out BBQ sauce). For the most part the worst food of the bunch was the barley, which always gives me problems after a while. Don’t know why, really. It goes down fine, but then about an hour later I start burning up. Same with oats. The pH monitor corroborated this observation.

Anyway, the test ended at 4:00 on the dot; that’s when the monitor shut down. I dropped it off at the hospital and was finally rid of the thing. I should be receiving the results sometime this week. At that moment all I cared about was that I could finally go back to doing things like sipping water throughout the day and eating mostly fruits and vegetables, things which I know keep my heartburn at bay, medications or no.

The hardest part of this test, gallbladder problems aside, was that I couldn’t take anything for the discomfort I felt. I couldn’t chew gum, couldn’t suck on hard candies, couldn’t drink water to wash out the acid, and certainly couldn’t take antacids. Hopefully, however, this test shows that things aren’t as bad as I thought they’d be, even though they’re obviously not good. Now that it’s over I’m only concerned with one thing: getting rid of the bad, un-salvageable gallbladder. That’s a story for some other time.

Edit: If you want to read a bit more about my observations, check out this MedHelp thread, where I talk a bit about this.

172 thoughts on “The 48-Hour Bravo Esophageal pH Test: A Probe to Study Acid via Monitoring Capsule

  1. I have RA Arthiritis, on my voice box hard for me to swallow food, I just had a EGD, Bravo Test Because they think that will show what I have. I will keep all of you posted to see if it helps anyone. It’s terrible I Pray it gets resolved.

  2. I had the bravo device inserted into my esophagus 3.5 days ago. It is extremely painful. Every swallow (including just saliva) is followed, about 3 seconds later, by a severe chest pain contraction. Every day, at around 12pm (after I take two antibiotic pills), the pain increases to the point where it is constant, even without swallowing; swallowing anything (liquid or solid) makes it much worse. The pain is causing breathing difficulty. I have to take deep breaths during a pain wave just to endure it slightly better. I’ve been to the ER and my GI just recommends pain killers. They don’t seem to help much; in fact, they cause dizziness and nausea. I threw up today from the pain. I truly cannot wait until this thing is out of me. Really, I’ve never experienced this kind of pain. I had to leave work yesterday and took off today. I’m mostly bed ridden. I was told that eating makes the device fall out faster. However, eating causes pain… so I’m facing a double edged sword. Apparently, 50% of people do not even feel the device, and only a few out of the other 50% have pain. I really got the short end of the stick.

    1. Yeah, you definitely did get the short end of it. I spoke with my doctor, and he mentioned that after having done literally over 1000 of those, pain was a very uncommon symptom.

  3. Can smoking effect the test results, while the probe is in nose, I don’t have appetite, feel gagging

  4. Thank you so much for this post! I’ve had throat pain identical to you and a lot of these commenters, and I think I’m going to go for this test. My GI wants to do it and I was weary because I thought it wouldn’t help, but this has put my mind at ease a bit. For one thing, the procedure seems simpler than I thought. But I do want to ask, and I would reeeeally appreciate an honest answer as best you can. How much did it cost? Because when my GI gave me an endoscopy a few months ago, that alone cost me $1,200 AFTER insurance. So I didn’t want to do the throat probe test because I assumed it would be even more than that. But, aside from the equipment, it seems slightly simpler. Can you give me a rough hint about what it cost you?

    Also, I looked at your comments and at the post and didn’t see the results of your test. I’m sure you said it somewhere, but what happened? Did you have NERD? What was it? And how did you fix it? Please, any information is greatly appreciated. My life has been close to miserable for 2-3 years because of throat burning and I’m desperate for answers/solutions.

    Thank you so much!


  5. I just had the Bravo procedure done Monday. I turned my box in Wednesday, but I’m so uncomfortable because the bravo chip is still in I feel it , it hurts. When will it come out?

  6. I also have had serious discomfort since mine was put in. The test is almost over and there’s no way it showed accurate results because I’ve been dealing with the pain and discomfort of having this in and can’t eat or drink without making the pain much worse! I’m really upset 🙁

  7. I found by keeping my own journal of times and ph levels over the course of the 48 hours, to be very interesting. Very seldom was my ph low, but it tended to be high, averaging 7+. I guess that that means more iff a regurgitation problem, which is what I suspected. I have never had heartburn or traditional reflux, which would explain why Omaprazole (Prilosec) never did a thing for me. I have been coughing for 3 years, have difficulty swallowing and a problem with food and/or drink coming back up, especially when I bend over. I have a hiatal hernia. I had surgery for it on July 31, 2012. It was an utter and complete failure. Complications. I also had Nissan fundoplasty
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    1. I had what is called a Nissen-Hill hybrid partial fundoplication, and it’s the best thing I ever did. I had a very large hiatal hernia and it got to where everything I ate caused pain and heartburn. I was taking 80mg of omeprazole and wishing I could give up eating altogether. I had the surgery in October, and I have had no heartburn or reflux or any discomfort ever since. I am truly happy.

      1. Thank you for this. Great to know! I’m in the testing phases now for surgery, debating between a fundoplication and the Lynx procedure. Unfortunately, because I have delayed gastric emptying, the best I can do is a toupe fundoplication, not a full nissen, which I would actually prefer. (I like the idea of the Lynx, but hate that MRI’s over 1.5T are a no-go.)

  8. I have had the bravo test done it was placed in on Wed I turn it back in on Friday.. A little discomfort with heartburn but overall not too bad! I pray it works and get to the underlying problem. So I can get back to a normal healthy lifestyle.

  9. Why is the tiny green light on below the heartburn button on my Barrett’s Bravo monitor when the study ended 20 minutes ago!?

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