It's common for infants to spit up after a meal. That little spit is called gastroesophogeal reflux or GER. But frequent vomiting associated with discomfort and difficulty feeding or weight loss may be caused by something more serious known as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Both GER and GERD can cause the upward movement of stomach content, including acid, into the esophagus and sometimes into or out of the mouth. Often times, that vomiting is repetitive. The differences between the two conditions are marked by the severity and by the lasting effects.
Most of the time, reflux in babies is due to a poorly coordinated gastrointestinal tract. Many infants with GERD are otherwise healthy; however, some infants can have problems affecting their nerves, brain, or muscles. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, a child's immature digestive system is usually to blame and most infants grow out of the condition by the their first birthday.
In older children, the causes of GERD are often the same as those seen in adults. Also, an older child is at increased risk for GERD if he or she experienced it as a baby. Anything that causes the muscular valve between the stomach and esophagus (the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES) to relax, or anything that increases the pressure below the LES, can cause GERD.
Certain factors also may contribute to GERD, including obesity, overeating, eating spicy or fried foods, drinking caffeine, carbonation, and specific medications. There also appears to be an inherited component to GERD, as it is more common in some families than in others.