Gastroesophageal Reflux in Infants
It is common for infants to have gastroesophageal reflux, and most outgrow the condition by the time they are 1 year old. Even though infants with reflux may spit up and vomit, most of them are healthy and happy. In some cases, however, reflux symptoms can be associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (also known as GERD), which is a more serious condition.
An Overview of Infants and Gastroesophageal RefluxGastroesophageal reflux (also known simply as reflux) is quite common in infants. It can cause repeated vomiting, coughing, and other respiratory problems. Despite these symptoms, however, most infants with reflux are happy and healthy.
Understanding Gastroesophageal Reflux in Infants
Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when stomach contents come back up into the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach) during or after a meal. A ring of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus opens and closes to allow food to enter the stomach. This ring of muscle is called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
This sphincter opens to release gas after meals in normal infants, children, and adults. This often results in burping. When the sphincter opens in infants, the stomach contents often go up the esophagus and out the mouth (spitting up or vomiting). Reflux can also occur when babies cough, cry, or strain.
However, in a small number of cases, this seemingly normal process can become more serious. When this occurs, it is possible that the infant has gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD for short. Children's immature digestive systems are usually to blame, and most infants grow out of GERD by the time they are 1 year old.
Treatment of infant gastroesophageal reflux will vary, based on a number of factors, including the severity of symptoms and the age of the infant. In some cases, treatment may not be necessary because reflux often improves on its own after 1 to 2 years of age. In these cases, feeding and sleeping modification may be all that is needed.
In other cases, the healthcare provider may recommend medications. In rare cases, surgery may be recommended for gastroesophageal reflux in infants.