When Does Reflux Spell GERD?

When reflux is frequent and causes vomiting and painful discomfort in the hours after eating, it may be called GERD, for gastro esophageal reflux disease.

By Stephen Shaffer, MD

Everyone has gastro esophageal reflux from time to time. If you’ve ever burped and had an acid taste in your mouth, you have had reflux. It occurs when the esophageal sphincter (at the entrance to the stomach) relaxes at the wrong time, allowing stomach contents to flow back into the esophagus.

When the condition is frequent and causes vomiting and painful discomfort in the hours after eating, it may be called GERD, for gastro esophageal reflux disease.

Infants who are diagnosed with GERD usually have problems with food or milk backing up into the esophagus causing vomiting, breathing problems, feeding difficulties or just frequent discomfort. Also, babies who vomit frequently may not gain weight and grow normally.

Gastric acid that returns from the stomach into the esophagus over time can cause more serious problems, especially in the older child who doesn’t usually vomit the acidic material. Acidic material can spill over into the windpipe and cause asthma or pneumonia. Inflammation or ulcers can form in the esophagus due to contact with stomach acid.

If you suspect your child has a problem with reflux, talk to your pediatrician. Your doctor may recommend feeding changes, medications or diagnostic tests to examine your child’s upper digestive system.

By Dr. Shaffer is a pediatric gastroenterologist with Children’s Specialty Group PLLC at CHKD.

The CHKD web site has a comprehensive explanation of GERD, detailing symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. Visit the health library section and click on Digestive and Liver Disorders, then select “problems affecting the upper digestive tract.”