What is Gastroesophageal Reflux?

Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when the contents of the stomach, including stomach acid, move upward (reflux) into the esophagus (swallowing tube). In infants, reflux is a fairly common problem (spitting up) that usually clears up with time. Gastroesophageal reflux becomes a disease (GERD) when it occurs enough to cause heartburn pain, respiratory symptoms, and other problems.

In babies, you may see milk or formula coming out of the mouth. Infants may be fussy, cry, arch their back, or refuse feedings. There may be slow weight gain. Symptoms occur commonly after meals. Older children may complain of a sour taste in their mouths, cough or clear their throats, or have a hoarse voice. Reflux may make asthma worse. Long-term problems that occur in adults such as damage to the esophagus are rare in children.

It can be difficult to diagnose reflux in children. Symptom history is most important. Tests such as X-rays (Upper GI Series), pH probe, and Endoscopy (flexible camera used to look down esophagus) are occasionally helpful. Usually a course of antacid medications is recommended. It may also be helpful to thicken feedings with rice cereal and hold your infant with their head elevated after feedings.

When To Call Your Pediatrician

If your infant has spit ups without significant discomfort or difficulty gaining weight, this is normal. Call our office if you think your child has symptoms of GERD, especially if your child has frequent vomiting, vomiting with weight loss, painful swallowing, difficulty swallowing, heartburn, chest or stomach pain, choking, gagging.

When To Go To The Emergency Room

Take your child to the emergency room if they have severe vomiting and cannot keep anything down, have severe abdominal pain, or are showing signs of dehydration like dry mouth or decreased urination. Call 911 if your child experiences apnea (a pause in breathing longer than 20 seconds).

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