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Gastroesophageal Reflux in Children


Updated July 08, 2014

Early Teenage Girl with stomachache at doctors office.
Miodrag Gajic/E+/Getty Images

Under normal conditions, food passes through the esophagus, and the muscle at the bottom of your esophagus closes off so food and liquids will remain in your stomach. This muscle is the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When the LES doesn't close properly, stomach contents and acid can back up into the esophagus.

GER often begins in infancy, but only a small number of infants continue to have GER as older children. Evaluation by a physician is advised for any child or adolescent with persistent symptoms of GER.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux in Children

The following symptoms may occur if your child is experiencing acid reflux:
  • Abdominal pain above the belly button
  • Chest pain
  • Burning sensation in the esophagus
  • Extreme pickiness about foods or refusing food
  • Eating only a few bites despite hunger
  • Gagging or choking
  • Poor weight gain or weight loss
  • Bad breath
  • Constantly runny nose
  • Frequent sore throat
  • Sinus infections
  • Respiratory problems (such as bronchitis, wheezing, asthma)
  • Nighttime cough
  • Nagging dry cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Poor sleep, frequent waking
  • Frequent ear infections and/or ear congestion
  • Excessive salivation or drooling
  • Intolerant of pressure on the stomach

Diagnosing Acid Reflux in Children

Your child's doctor may base a diagnosis of acid reflux on your child's symptoms and a physical examination. The doctor may also order tests to verify the diagnosis, or to determine if a more serious condition, such as Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is the cause of the reflux. These tests may include one of the following:
  • Lab tests. This can consist of various blood and urine tests to identify or rule out possible causes of recurring vomiting and poor weight gain.

  • Esophageal pH monitoring. This test will measure the acidity in your child's esophagus.

  • Upper endoscopy. A tube with a camera lens and light is inserted through your child's mouth and into esophagus and stomach. The doctor may use this procedure to see if there is a narrowing (stricture) or inflammation (esophagitis) in the esophagus.

Treating Acid Reflux in Children

The course of treatment the doctor prescribes for your child will depend on your child's age and symptoms. The doctor may first suggest lifestyle modifications to see if this will ease the reflux symptoms. If reflux symptoms continue, the doctor may suggestion one of the following remedies:

Points to Remember About Acid Reflux in Children


Brian Pace, MA, Richard M. Glass, MD. "Gastroesophageal Reflux in Children." JAMA, July 19, 2000---Vol 284, No. 3. The Journal of the American Medical Association. 8 Jan 2007

"Gastroesophageal Reflux in Infants." NIH Publication No. 06–5419 August 2006. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). 28 Dec 2006.

"Heartburn, Hiatal Hernia, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 03–0882 June 2003. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Accessed on 08 Jan 2007

Marsha Kay, M.D., Vasundhara Tolia, M.D.. "COMMON GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS IN PEDIATRIC PATIENTS." The American College of Gastroenterology. 28 Dec 2006

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