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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Teens


Updated June 18, 2014

While chronic heartburn and GERD are often considered to be adult disorders, it is becoming more common among children and teens. Because of the increasing consumption of fast food and ever-expanding waistlines among teens, GERD is becoming an increasing problem in teenagers.

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.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux in Teens

The following symptoms may occur if your teenager is experiencing acid reflux:
  • Burning sensation in the chest, behind the breastbone, squeezing and radiating to the back, lasting from a few minutes to hours
  • Burning sensation in the esophagus
  • Nausea
  • A sore, raw throat, especially upon waking in the mornings
  • Hoarseness
  • Bad breath
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Feeling like food is stuck in the throat
  • Feeling of choking that wakes him during the night
  • Respiratory problems (such as bronchitis, wheezing, asthma)
  • Nagging dry cough

Diagnosing Acid Reflux in Teens

Your child's doctor may base a diagnosis of acid reflux on your child's symptoms, a physical examination, and your child's response to medical treatment. For example, if your child's symptoms improve after treating proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), then it's probably GERD. If your child's symptoms do not improve, the doctor may order tests to determine if the diagnosis is indeed GERD as the cause of the reflux. These tests may include one of the following:
  • Barium x-rays. Also known as barium swallow, these are diagnostic x-rays in which barium is used to diagnose abnormalities of the digestive tract.

  • 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 Teens

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:
  • Antacids - These neutralize stomach acid. These include Tums (Calcium Carbonate), Rolaids (Calcium Carbonate), Mylanta (Aluminum Hydroxide and Magnesium Hydroxide), and Maalox (Aluminum Hydroxide and Magnesium Hydroxide).

  • Acid Suppressers - These suppress acid production in the stomach. These include Tagamet (cimetidine), Pepcid (famotidine), Zantac (ranitidine). and Axid (nizatidine).

  • Acid Blockers - These completely block acid production in the stomach. Prilosec (omeprazole), Prevacid (lansoprazole), Nexium (esomeprazole), Aciphex (raberprazole), and Protonix (pantoprazole).


Marsha Kay, M.D., Vasundhara Tolia, M.D.. "COMMON GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS IN PEDIATRIC PATIENTS." The American College of Gastroenterology. 26 Jan 2008.

"Heartburn, Hiatal Hernia, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 07-0882 May 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. 26 Jan 2008.

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. 26 Jan 2008.

Related Video
Heartburn and Acid Reflux Testing - Endoscopy
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