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Health & Baby

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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) in Infants or Children

Do Babies Outgrow Reflux?

Yes. Most babies outgrow reflux by age 1 with less than 5% continuing to have symptoms as toddlers. However, GERD can also occur in older children. In either case, the problem is usually manageable.

How Is Reflux Diagnosed in Infants and Children?

Usually, the medical history as told by the parent is enough for the doctor to diagnose reflux, especially if the problem occurs regularly and causes discomfort. The growth chart and diet history are also helpful, but 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, your child 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. Some people with GERD have a slow emptying of the stomach that may be contributing to the reflux of acid. During this test, your child drinks milk or eats food mixed with a radioactive chemical. This chemical is followed through the gastrointestinal tract using a special camera.

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 babies and older children:

For babies:

  • Elevate the head of the baby's crib or bassinet.
  • Hold the baby upright for 30 minutes after a feeding.
  • Thicken bottle feedings with cereal (do not do this without your doctor's approval).
  • Feed your baby smaller amounts of food more often.
  • Try solid food (with your doctor's approval).

For older children:

  • Elevate the head of the child's bed.
  • Keep the child upright for at least two hours after eating.
  • Serve several small meals throughout the day, rather than three large meals.
  • Make sure your child is not overeating.
  • Limit foods and beverages that seem to worsen your child's reflux such as high fat, fried or spicy foods, carbonation, and caffeine.
  • Encourage your child to get regular exercise.

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

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