Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition often associated with adults, but it does affect children, as well. As a board-certified pediatric gastroenterologist, A. John Yazdi, MD, with Pediatric Gastroenterology of Colorado Springs in Colorado Springs, Colorado, sees many kids with this often painful problem. If you think your child has GERD, call the office to make an appointment with Dr. Yazdi.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a chronic digestive disorder that involves the stomach contents coming back up the food pipe, or esophagus. Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) is what causes a baby to spit up during the first three months of life. That’s very normal and is not a digestive problem.
GER can even continue up until the age of 19, although most kids outgrow it after a year. GER becomes GERD when the reflux starts to interfere with other functions like breathing or eating or it becomes more frequent after the age of 14 months.
Typically, GERD affects the lower esophageal sphincter. A sphincter is a band of muscle that works kind of like a door. The lower esophageal sphincter opens to allow food to enter the stomach from the esophagus and then closes to prevent stomach acid from going back up the food pipe.
Every person, child or adult, has reflux sometimes. The muscle fails to close right, and acid travels upward. That is what causes heartburn. Babies tend to have a weak lower esophageal sphincter, which is why they spit milk up. As they develop, the sphincter gets stronger, and the reflux is less frequent.
When a child has GERD, something interferes with that process. For example, some foods can trigger it, like:
There may be other factors involved, too. Being overweight, for example, is a risk factor. Other risk factors include:
These all can factor into the development of GERD.
Heartburn tops the list of GERD symptoms in most adults. Kids don’t get heartburn, though, so look for:
The acid that washes up in the mouth can impact the teeth, too, so there may be dental problems and tooth decay.
Dr. Yazdi starts with a full physical exam and medical history. He may order tests looking for signs of aspiration or damage to the upper digestive system such as a chest x-ray or an upper GI series.