Gastroesophageal reflux happens when food and stomach acid flow from the stomach back into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. In adults, reflux is often called heartburn or acid reflux.
Reflux is common in babies and children, and it is usually not a sign of a serious problem. Most babies stop having reflux around 1 year of age. A child who continues to have reflux may need treatment.
Reflux happens because of a problem with the ring of muscle at the end of the esophagus. The ring of muscle is called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES. The LES acts like a one-way valve between the esophagus and the stomach. When you swallow, it lets food pass into the stomach. If the LES is weak, stomach contents can flow back up into the esophagus.
In babies, this problem happens because the digestive tract is still growing. Reflux usually goes away as a baby matures.
It is common for babies to spit up (have reflux) after they eat. Babies with severe reflux may cry, act fussy, or have trouble eating. They may not sleep well or grow as expected.
An older child or teen may have the same symptoms as an adult. He or she may cough a lot and have a burning feeling in the chest and throat (heartburn). He or she may have a sour or bitter taste in the mouth.
To find out if a child has reflux, a doctor will do a physical exam and ask about symptoms. A baby who is healthy and growing may not need any tests. If a teen is having symptoms, the doctor may want to see if medicines help before doing tests.
If a baby is not growing as expected or treatment doesn't help a teen, the doctor may want to do tests to help find the cause of the problem. Common tests include:
Most babies stop having reflux over time, so the doctor may just suggest that you follow some steps to help reduce the problem until it goes away. For example, it may help to:
For older children and teens, it may help to:
If these steps don't work, the doctor may suggest medicine. Medicines that may be used include:
Before you give your child any over-the-counter medicine for reflux:
Children with reflux rarely need surgery. It may be an option for babies or children who have severe reflux that causes breathing problems or keeps them from growing.
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The GastroKids website helps parents, children, and teens learn more about reflux and GERD, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and other digestive disorders in children. This website is part of the NASPGHAN Foundation (North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition).
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This website is sponsored by the Nemours Foundation. It has a wide range of information about children's health—from allergies and diseases to normal growth and development (birth to adolescence). This website offers separate areas for kids, teens, and parents, each providing age-appropriate information that the child or parent can understand. You can sign up to get weekly emails about your area of interest.
|National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse|
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|Bethesda, MD 20892-3570|
This clearinghouse is a service of the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The clearinghouse answers questions; develops, reviews, and sends out publications; and coordinates information resources about digestive diseases. Publications produced by the clearinghouse are reviewed carefully for scientific accuracy, content, and readability.
|North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (NASPGHAN)|
|P.O. Box 6|
|Flourtown, PA 19031|
NASPGHAN promotes advances in clinical care, research, and education for infants, children, and teens with digestive disorders. The family resources page of this Web site has information about pain in the belly, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, poor weight gain, nutritional problems, and diseases of the liver, bowel, and pancreas.
Other Works Consulted
- Horvath A, et al. (2008). The effect of thickened-feed interventions on gastroesophageal reflux in infants: Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. Pediatrics, 122(6): e1268–e1277.
- Khan S, Orenstein SR (2011). Gastroesophageal reflux disease. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 1266–1270. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Kumar Y, Sarvananthan R (2008). GORD in children, search date August 2007. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
- Orenstein SR, et al. (2009). Multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial assessing the efficacy and safety of proton pump inhibitor lansoprazole in infants with symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Journal of Pediatrics, 154(4): 514–520.
- Sundaram S, et al. (2011). Gastroesophageal reflux section of Gastrointestinal tract. In WW Hay et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 20th ed., pp. 595–596. New York: McGraw-Hill.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||John Pope, MD - Pediatrics|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Chuck Norlin, MD - Pediatrics|
|Last Revised||March 13, 2012|
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