For parents, nothing is more important than their child's health. Any ailment, no matter how severe, deserves special attention--a sore throat, a stomach pain, an aching head. Even something seemingly benign, such as a burp or a small amount of reflux, should be taken into consideration, for you may not be aware that children, not just adults, can have acid reflux. Even worse, your child's little bit of acid reflux may be suggestive of a more serious problem: GERD.

Heartburn, the main symptom of GERD, is the burning pain that starts in the chest and flows upward, accompanied by reflux up into the esophagus. While most children experience occasional heartburn in moderation, if it is consistent and repeated, you should see your doctor to get your child a diagnosis. In fact, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, you should see your doctor about GERD if your child has any of the following:

  • Increased amounts of vomiting or persistent projectile (forceful) vomiting
  • Vomiting fluid that is green or yellow or looks like coffee grounds or blood
  • Difficulty breathing after vomiting or spitting up
  • Pain related to eating
  • Food refusal that causes weight loss or poor weight gain
  • Difficult or painful swallowing[1]

How common are GERD symptoms in children? In 2000 a study sought to answer this exact question.[2] Researchers surveyed nearly 1,800 people living in the Chicago area. Approximately 1/3 of the participants were parents of children aged 3-9, 1/3 were parents of children aged 10-17, and 1/3 were children aged 10-17. What the study revealed was that symptoms suggestive of gastroesophageal reflux are not rare in childhood, but that only a fraction of children are treated with antacids or h-2 receptors (over-the-counter medicines). In other words, GERD symptoms certainly exist in children, but children and parents of these children do not usually seek treatment.

This may be attributed to the fact that although your child may experience GERD symptoms, he or she may not have GERD. One thing the study could not determine was how many of the children with GERD symptoms actually had GERD and were at risk for developing complications.

However, GERD is a serious disease that afflicts nearly 19 million American.[3] Chances are that many of the adults suffering from it experienced it as children. It is never too early to look out for your child.



[2] Nelson, Suzanne P., MD, MPH, et al. "Prevalence of Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux During Childhood." Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. February, 2000.