Diagnosing and Treating Acid Reflux in Children

Every year millions of adults suffer the affects of gastro esophageal reflux disease or GERD for short. But what most people don’t realize is that acid reflux in children is also a very common problem. Just like an adult if a child’s GERD is left untreated a whole multitude of problems can occur, including esophageal damage, trouble breathing, larynx damage, and an increased chance of cancer of the esophagus.

The first step to diagnosing acid reflux in a child is recognizing the symptoms of this disease. One of the first signs may be a child who has difficulty eating or swallowing, complaining of pain when doing so. They may also exhibit the signs of slow or stunted growth because of a lack of nutrition. Vomiting may also be present in a child with acid reflux as well as projectile vomiting. The thing to watch for with throwing up and children who have GERD is a vomit with a green bile look to it, or an appearance like that of coffee grounds or blood.  If a child has any of these types of symptoms on a consistent basis a trip to the pediatrician is in order.

The diagnosing of acid reflux in a child begins with a description of the symptoms. Most doctors will be able to make an accurate diagnosis from this alone but depending on the severity of the symptoms and the risk of complications the doctor may order some more in depth diagnostic tests be done.

The most common test is the barium x-ray image test. By drinking barium an x-ray can be taken of the upper GI tract. This gives a detailed image of the esophagus and stomach helping a doctor to make a more accurate diagnosis. Another more invasive test is an Endoscopy in which a thin probe with a light and camera on the end is snaked down the throat and into the stomach. This gives the doctor a first hand view of any damage or underlying conditions that may be causing the acid reflux. This type of test does require general anesthesia and is usually done in a hospital.

The first recommendation your pediatrician will probably make is a change in diet for your child with acid reflux. This will not only involve avoiding the known foods that are known to set of symptoms but also eating smaller meals and avoiding any foods a good 2 to 3 hours before bed. This can be hard for a child or young adolescent because many of the foods they need to avoid are the ones they like best.

When dietary changes do not have the desired effect then your child’s doctor may suggest an over the counter medication or write a prescription for a proton pump inhibitor. These drugs work by controlling how much stomach acid the body produces.

Most children who suffer from acid reflux get it when they are babies and simply outgrow it as they travel towards adulthood. Even though this is the case it is still important to have any case of acid reflux in children properly diagnosed and treated by a pediatrician. The long term complications of not getting GERD properly treated can lead to a lifetime of discomfort, pain, and possible life threatening disease.