GERD Home > GERD in Children

Children and infants experience gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) more often than people might think. For older children, symptoms can be similar to those experienced by adults. In these cases, the most common symptom is heartburn. In younger children and infants, symptoms may include a refusal to eat or difficulty swallowing. In children, GERD is often treated through diet and lifestyle changes, medication, and surgery.

An Introduction to GERD in Children

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (also known as GERD or simply as reflux) is common in infants and children, although it is often overlooked. Children's immature digestive systems are usually to blame, and most infants grow out of GERD by the time they are a year old.

Understanding Reflux

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 in the form of 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.

Symptoms of GERD in Children

In children, GERD symptoms will vary based on their age. Young children may experience spitting up, vomiting, and coughing (which are symptoms shared with reflux). In a small number of infants, symptoms may be more serious. Examples of these problems can include:
  • Poor growth due to an inability to hold down enough food
  • Irritability or refusing to feed due to pain
  • Blood loss from acid burning the esophagus
  • Breathing problems.
For older children, GERD symptoms can be similar to those experienced by adults. In these cases, the most common symptom is heartburn. The pain or discomfort caused by heartburn usually starts in the middle of the chest and can move up through the throat. With GERD, heartburn can be frequent, constant, and/or severe.
Other common symptoms of GERD in children may include:
  • Sensation of food stuck in the throat
  • Feeling like they are choking or the throat is tight
  • Acidic or sour taste in the mouth (acid indigestion)
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Chest pain.
It is also possible for a child with GERD to have one or several of these symptoms but not have heartburn.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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