Anna Trauernicht, M.D.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (commonly known as GERD) is a chronic digestive condition that affects 25 percent of children and teens, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Complications from GERD rarely cause significant harm, but symptoms can interfere with daily life. For this reason, parents may find it helpful to be aware of the differences of reflux and GERD and what to do if your child suffers from the disease.
What is the difference between GERD and Reflux?
Symptoms of reflux are similar to those of GERD; and the symptoms of both conditions are brought on by stomach acid re-entering the esophagus as a result of a weakened or abnormally relaxed sphincter muscle. However, if your child has reflux that doesn't necessarily mean that he/she has GERD.
What separates reflux from GERD is the frequency of the symptoms. GERD is diagnosed when a child consistently experiences acid reflux or heartburn more than two times a week.
Symptoms of GERD include:
Children with GERD occasionally show additional symptoms including:
What to do if Your Child has GERD Symptoms
If you think your child is suffering from GERD, set up an appointment with your pediatrician. The pediatrician will assess your child's symptoms and situation and refer you to a gastroenterologist if he/she feels that your child would benefit from specialty care.
There are a variety of treatments available to minimize GERD symptoms. Your physician will likely have your child go through a list of options until finding the one that works best.
The first treatment option is to make lifestyle changes. Changes that your physician might suggest for your child include:
If lifestyle changes do not effectively improve symptoms, your doctor may suggest that your child begin taking over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Different types OTC medications will serve different purposes and can be used alone or in combination – with the approval of a pediatrician or gastroenterologist.
If OTC medication does not sufficiently calm GERD symptoms, your physician may suggest prescription medication. The functions are similar to the OTC medications listed above, but the prescription medication will be stronger, due to either increased dosage or differing active ingredients.
Finally, if none of the above treatments work, your physician may suggest surgery to either strengthen on reinforce the sphincter muscle, therefore keeping excess stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus.