Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a disorder that results from food and stomach acid backing up into the esophagus from the stomach.

GERD is different from gastroesophageal reflux (GER). GER is a common disorder seen in infants, which causes them to spit up. Most infants outgrow GER within 12 months.

GERD can occur at any age and typically requires lifestyle changes, medications, and sometimes surgery. GERD can cause serious health issues and the sooner it is treated, the better the outcome.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

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The exact cause of GERD is unknown. Several factors contribute to the condition, including:

  • Abnormal pressure to the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a valve that keeps food in the stomach
  • Narrow or short esophagus
  • Delayed emptying of the stomach

Risk Factors

The following factors increase the chances of developing GERD. If your child has any of these risk factors, tell the doctor:


If your child has any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to GERD. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell the doctor if your child has any of these:

  • Regurgitation or vomiting
  • Bloody vomit
  • Weight loss or poor weight gain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain in the abdomen or chest
  • Recurrent pneumonia or respiratory problems
  • Cough or wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Anemia
  • Dental problems (due to the effect of the stomach acid on the tooth's enamel)
  • Feeling full almost immediately after eating
  • Irritation to esophagus
  • Chronic heartburn


Your doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Your child may need to see a pediatric gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in gastrointestinal diseases.

Tests may include:

  • Upper GI series —a series of x-rays of the upper digestive system taken after drinking a barium solution
  • Upper endoscopy with biopsy—a tube is inserted into esophagus to look at the lining and a piece of tissue is taken for testing
  • 24-hour pH monitoring—a probe is placed in the esophagus to keep track of the level of acidity in the lower esophagus
  • Short trial of medicine


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your child. Treatment options include the following:

Lifestyle Changes

Your child's doctor may suggest making lifestyle changes before trying medication. These changes may include:

  • Eating small, frequent meals
  • Not eating two to three hours before bedtime
  • Raising the head of your child’s bed
  • Instructing your child to lie on the left side when sleeping

Your child may also need to avoid certain foods, such as:

  • Chocolate
  • Fried foods
  • Peppermint
  • Spicy foods
  • Caffeine products
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Foods high in fat and acid

If your child is obese, your doctor may recommend weight loss. Avoiding second-hand smoke is also important.


Medications may include:

  • Histamine-2 receptor drugs—to decrease acid production (eg, Tagamet, Pepcid, Zantac)
  • Proton pump inhibitors—to heal the esophagus lining and relieve symptoms (eg, Prilosec, Prevacid, Protonix, Nexium)
  • Promotility drugs—to help slow stomach emptying (eg, Reglan)
  • Over-the-counter antacids—to treat heartburn relief (eg, Tums, Maalox)

Many of these are over-the-counter medications. Talk to your child's doctor about any new medication.


In severe cases, the doctor may recommend surgery. The most common treatment is called fundoplication . During this procedure, the surgeon wraps part of the stomach around the lower esophageal sphincter. This makes the sphincter stronger and prevents stomach acid from backing up into the esophagus.


While most causes of GERD in children are unknown, there are some steps to control the condition. For example, you can help your child:

  • Stick to lifestyle and dietary changes
  • Keep a food diary and record the symptoms
  • Avoid second-hand smoke