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Heartburn/GERD Health Center

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GERD and Acid Reflux in Infants and Children

How Is Acid Reflux Diagnosed in Infants and Children?

Usually, the medical history as told by the parent is enough for the doctor to make a diagnosis of acid reflux, especially if the problem occurs regularly and causes discomfort. Occasionally, further tests are recommended. They may include:

  • Barium swallow or upper GI series. This is a special X-ray test that uses barium to highlight the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of the small intestine. This test may identify any obstructions or narrowing in these areas.
  • pH probe . During the test, the patient is asked to swallow a long, thin tube with a probe at the tip that will stay in the esophagus for 24 hours. The tip is positioned, usually at the lower part of the esophagus, and measures levels of stomach acids. It also helps determine if breathing problems are the result of reflux.
  • Upper GI endoscopy . This is done using an endoscope (a thin, flexible, lighted tube and camera) that allows the doctor to look directly inside the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of the small intestine.
  • Gastric emptying study. During this test, the child drinks milk or eats food mixed with a radioactive chemical. This chemical is followed through the gastrointestinal tract using a special camera. Some patients with GERD have a slow emptying of the stomach that may be contributing to the reflux of acid.

What Are the Treatments for Acid Reflux in Infants and Children?

There are a variety of lifestyle measures you can try for acid reflux in your child:

For infants:

  • Elevating the head of the baby's crib or bassinet
  • Holding the baby upright for 30 minutes after a feeding
  • Thickening bottle feedings with cereal (do not do this without a doctor's supervision)
  • Changing feeding schedules
  • Trying solid food (with your doctor's approval)

For older children:

  • Elevating the head of the child's bed
  • Keeping the child upright for at least two hours after eating
  • Serving several small meals throughout the day, rather than three large meals
  • Limiting foods and beverages that seem to worsen your child's reflux
  • Encouraging your child to get regular exercise

If the reflux is severe or doesn't get better, your doctor may recommend medication to treat it.

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