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How-to Identify GERD Symptoms in Children

If your child has difficulty while eating, such as vomiting, gagging, coughing, trouble breathing, or heartburn, then it may be helpful to learn more about GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease.

GERD is a chronic digestive disorder that occurs when the contents of the stomach can back up into the food pipe, which is commonly called reflux.

Most babies up to 3-months-old spit up often and generally outgrow it by the time they reach their first birthday. Some children experience reflux, although this doesn’t always mean that they have GERD.

What causes GERD?

When the muscle at the bottom of the food pipe (also called the esophagus) relaxes too often or for too long, stomach acid can then flow back into the food pipe causing vomiting and heartburn (Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine).

Some foods – such as chocolate, peppermint and high-fat foods – seem to open this portion of the food pipe for a longer period of time, and may lead to these symptoms. Other foods, such as citrus and tomatoes, produce more acid in the stomach, which can also lead to problems.

What are the symptoms of GERD?

While symptoms of GERD can vary widely, especially in different age groups, heartburn or acid indigestion is the most common symptom. Children 12-years-old and younger can experience a dry cough, asthma symptoms, or trouble swallowing.

Other common symptoms include belching, not eating, stomach pain, having the hiccups, choking, and coughing.  Of course, pain and discomfort are byproducts of GERD, so young children might be irritable, crying, or having trouble resting if they are suffering from GERD.

How is GERD diagnosed?

GERD symptoms may suggest other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Your pediatrician can do a physical exam and take a health history, and perhaps refer you to a gastroenterologist for further assessment. This visit may include a chest x-ray, upper GI series or barium swallow, endoscopy, esophageal manometry, pH monitoring, and/or a gastric emptying study.

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, general health, and severity of symptoms.

GERD and Food Allergies

Young children can experience a wide range of GI food allergy symptoms, which most commonly are caused by cow’s milk, soy and wheat. Treatment for GI food allergies requires strict elimination of food allergens until the child has developed a tolerance to these foods. An amino acid-based formula in addition to an elimination diet may be helpful in alleviating symptoms. Children should then be carefully monitored to ensure nutritional progress.

Amino Acid-Based Formulas Available

While amino acid-based formula is not a typical treatment for GERD, it may be a recommended formula choice for food allergy or GI disorders that display symptoms of GERD.  Choosing an elemental formula made from amino acids can allow you to safely provide well-rounded nutrition without risking exposure to potentially harmful proteins. Cambrooke’s EquaCare Jr. and Essential Care Jr. formulas offer healthy, more affordable amino acid-based formulas. Learn more about each of these beneficial products by visiting us online today or calling 1-833-377-2773.


Johns Hopkins Medicine: