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Understanding Acid Reflux (GERD) in Children

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or acid reflux, is not exclusive to adults. When it happens to infants and kids, these are the common symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Recurring cough
  • Choking or gagging, resulting in difficulty eating
  • Child may refuse to eat
  • Stomach pain due to gas
  • Heartburn


Acid reflux occurs when food or stomach acid reverts back up through the esophagus. In serious cases, the patient can taste it in his or her mouth.

Infants and older children have different causes of acid reflux. Experts say acid reflux is fairly common in infants because their digestive system isn’t fully developed at this stage in their lives. However, upon reaching one year old, infants grow out of it.

On the other hand, acid reflux in older children is due to weakening of the muscular valve that borders on the esophagus and stomach. Stomach acid or food rises through the esophagus as the muscular valve relaxes or gives way to pressure coming from the stomach.

To diagnose acid reflux in children, a doctor will look into the patient’s medical history and ascertain if the condition regularly happens or causes discomfort. Some tests may be required, which include the following:

Barium Swallow or Upper GI series: This procedure includes requiring the child patient to drink liquid that will show the esophagus, stomach and small intestine on an X-ray. It will draw attention to anything that is blocking these pathways.

pH Probe: A long, thin tube is inserted through the esophagus to measure stomach acid levels. For children with breathing challenges, this procedure can also help determine if it is triggered by acid reflux.

Upper GI Endoscopy: This involves using a thin tube with a lighted tip and a camera on its end, which allows doctors to get a view of the esophagus, stomach and small intestine.