What is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)?
"Gastro-" means stomach, the esophagus is the tube that connects the throat to the stomach, and reflux means flowing backward.
Gastroesophageal reflux, also called acid reflux, is when:
Stomach contents and stomach acid flow backward, that is, up the esophagus
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is when acid reflux causes problems with feeding or breathing, or damages the esophagus. GERD is also common in adults.
Stomach acid can irritate and sometimes damage the esophagus
Sometimes stomach acid gets in your child's throat and down the windpipe
Nearly all babies have reflux and spit up sometimes
Babies with GERD may throw up, have problems eating or breathing, or be cranky
Children may have chest or abdominal pain, or heartburn
Doctors make changes to your child's diet and how you feed them, and prescribe acid-blocking medicine
Most babies outgrow reflux by about 18 months
What causes reflux in children?
A ring of muscle keeps the end of the esophagus closed. GERD happens when that muscle doesn't completely close off the esophagus and lets stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus.
Weak or underdeveloped muscles in lower part of the esophagus
Too much pressure in your child's stomach, such as from overfeeding or chronic lung diseases
Reflux is more likely when children:
Lie flat during or after feeding
Have a food or milk allergy
Are around cigarette smoke
Get caffeine or nicotine from their mother's breast milk
What are the symptoms of reflux in children?
Symptoms of reflux usually start shortly after birth and are worst around 6 or 7 months of age. Then symptoms slowly go away and are usually gone by about 18 months.
In babies, the most common symptoms are:
A lot of spitting up
If babies throw up a lot, they may not gain weight like they should. If acid gets in their throat and windpipe, babies may cough and wheeze.
In children, the most common symptoms are:
Sometimes heartburn (a burning pain in the chest)
In adolescents, the most common symptom is:
How can doctors tell if my child has reflux?
Doctors often base the diagnosis of reflux on your child's symptoms. If your child has severe symptoms, doctors may also do tests such as:
Barium study (an x-ray that use swallowed barium to help doctors see details of the digestive tract)
How do doctors treat GERD in children?
Treatment of GERD depends on your child’s age and symptoms.
For a baby, doctors may have you:
Thicken the baby's formula with some rice cereal
Hold the baby slightly upright to eat
Burp the baby more often
Use a special baby formula that doesn’t cause allergies (hypoallergenic formula)
Sometimes have your baby take antacid medicine
Sometimes raise the head of the crib about 6 inches (15 cm)
For an older child, doctors will have your child:
Not eat 2 or 3 hours before bedtime
Not drink bubbly (carbonated) drinks such as soft drinks or caffeine drinks such as coffee
Not take certain medicines
Not eat certain foods such as chocolate or fatty foods, or overeat
All children should be kept away from caffeine and cigarette smoke.