In babies it's called spitting up. In older kids, the signs of reflux and GERD can be burping, stomach aches, and heartburn. Most people experience acid reflux sometimes, and it's usually not a problem. Even infants who spit up frequently are usually perfectly healthy.
However, in some people, reflux happens so frequently and is so severe that it develops into a condition called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). GERD occurs when reflux causes troublesome symptoms or complications such as failure to gain weight, bleeding, respiratory problems or esophagitis.
You can develop GERD at any age. There are some differences between the symptoms, management, and treatment of GERD in infants and GERD in older children and teens. ENT Center of Utah has resources and information about pediatric GERD, whether you have an infant, older child, or if you are a teen with GERD. The most important thing to know is that, with proper treatment, kids with GERD can lead normal, active lives.
Quick Facts about Reflux and GERD
The symptoms of childhood GERD are more serious than the occasional stomachache or infrequent act of spitting up. GERD may be present in infants and preschool children if they're:
GERD may be present in older children and adolescents if they:
Long-term bathing of the esophageal lining with stomach acid can lead to the precancerous condition Barrett's esophagus. It can even lead to cancer of the esophagus if the disease isn't effectively controlled, though this is rare in children.
Treatment for pediatric GERD depends on the severity of the condition. Doctors will almost always advise parents, children, and teens to start with simple lifestyle changes. For example:
Your child's doctor may recommend medications that help reduce the amount of acid their stomach produces. These medications include:
There's some debate regarding starting young children on these medications. It's not yet known what the long-term effects of these medications may be. You may want to focus on helping your child make lifestyle modifications. You may also want your child to try herbal remedies. Some parents feel that herbal remedies may be helpful, but the effectiveness of remedies is unproven and the long-term consequences for children taking them are unknown.
Doctors rarely consider surgery as a treatment for pediatric GERD. They generally reserve it for treating cases in which they can't control serious complications, such as esophageal bleeding or ulcers.