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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Children


Gastroesophageal reflux

occurs when food, liquid, or acid from your child's stomach backs up into his or her esophagus. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is reflux that occurs more than twice a week for a few weeks. It usually causes heartburn and other symptoms. GERD can cause other health problems over time if it is not treated.

Common signs and symptoms of GERD:

  • Heartburn (burning pain in his or her chest or below the breast bone) that usually occurs after meals
  • Bitter or acid taste in the mouth
  • Upper abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting
  • Dry cough, hoarseness, or sore throat
  • Trouble swallowing or pain with swallowing
  • Gagging or choking while eating
  • Poor feeding and growth
  • Irritability or crying after eating
  • Wheezing

Call 911 if:

  • Your child has severe chest pain.
  • Your child suddenly stops breathing, begins choking, or his or her body becomes stiff or limp.

Seek care immediately if:

  • Your child has forceful vomiting.
  • Your child's vomit is green or yellow, or has blood in it.
  • Your child suddenly has trouble breathing or wheezes.
  • Your child has severe stomach pain and swelling.

Contact your child's healthcare provider if:

  • Your child becomes more irritable or fussy and does not want to eat.
  • Your child becomes weak and urinates less than normal.
  • Your child is losing weight.
  • Your child has more trouble swallowing than he has before, or he feels new pain when he swallows.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.


The goal of treatment is to relieve your child's symptoms and prevent damage to his esophagus. Treatment is also done to promote healthy weight gain and growth. Your child may need any of the following:

  • Medicines are used to decrease stomach acid. Medicine may also be used to help your lower esophageal sphincter and stomach contract (tighten) more.
  • Surgery is done to wrap the upper part of the stomach around the esophageal sphincter. This will strengthen the sphincter and prevent reflux.

Help manage your child's symptoms:

  • Keep a diary of your child's symptoms. Write down your child's symptoms and what your child is doing when symptoms occur. Bring the diary to your visits with the healthcare provider. The diary may help your child's healthcare provider plan the best treatment for him or her.
  • Remind your child not to eat large meals. The stomach produces more acid to help digest large meals, which can cause reflux. Have your child eat 6 small meals each day instead of 3 large ones. He or she should also eat slowly. Your child should not eat meals 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Remind your child not to have foods or drinks that may increase heartburn. These include chocolate, peppermint, fried or fatty foods, drinks that contain caffeine, or carbonated drinks (soda). Other foods include spicy foods, onions, tomatoes, and tomato-based foods. He or she should also not have foods or drinks that can irritate the esophagus. Examples include citrus fruits and juices.
  • Elevate the head of your child's bed. Place 6-inch blocks under the head of your child's bed frame to do this. This may decrease your child's reflux while he or she sleeps.
  • Help your child maintain a healthy weight. Ask your child's healthcare provider about how to manage your child's weight if he or she is overweight. Being overweight or obese can worsen GERD.
  • Your child should not wear clothing that is tight around the waist. Tight clothing can put pressure on your child's stomach and cause or worsen GERD symptoms.
  • Keep your child away from cigarette smoke. Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around your child. If your adolescent smokes, encourage him or her to stop. Smoking weakens the lower esophageal sphincter and increases the risk of GERD. Ask your child's healthcare provider for information if your adolescent currently smokes and needs help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Have your adolescent talk to his or her healthcare provider before using these products.

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider as directed:

Talk to your child's healthcare provider about any new or worsening symptoms your child has during your follow-up visits. Your child may need other tests if his or her symptoms do not improve. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2018 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Children (Ambulatory Care)

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