Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Acid reflux causes a burning sensation that radiates up from the stomach to the mid-chest or throat. This is heartburn caused by refluxed stomach acid touching the lining of the esophagus (the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach). It also may cause a sour taste in the back of the mouth and can sometimes lead to difficulty swallowing.
The muscle at the end of the esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a one-way valve which opens for limited amounts of time when you swallow. Acid reflux occurs when the LES doesn’t close properly or tightly enough. A faulty or weakened LES allows digestive juices and stomach contents to rise back up the esophagus.
Most people experience occasional acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux (GER). However, in some cases, the digestive condition is chronic. It’s considered gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) if it occurs more than twice a week.
Acid reflux can affect infants, children, and adults. Most children under 12, along with some adults who have GERD, don’t experience the most common symptom—heartburn. Alternative symptoms include: trouble swallowing, a dry cough, or symptoms experienced by those with asthma.
Infant Acid Reflux
Adults aren’t the only ones affected by acid reflux. More than half of all babies experience infant acid reflux during their first three months of life. It’s important for your pediatrician to differentiate between an infant’s normal physiological reflux and GERD.
Spitting up and even vomiting is normal and may not bother the baby. Other signs include irritability, discomfort, or arching the back during or immediately after feedings. Luckily, these symptoms generally aren’t harmful to the baby.
Infant acid reflux usually goes away on its own around 12 to 18 months of age. It may be GERD rather than the milder GER if symptoms continue beyond that age. GERD in children can easily be missed. Talk to your pediatrician if your baby displays the following symptoms:
- a lack of weight gain
- failure to eat
- respiratory problems
- symptoms that mimic colic
- spitting up more than a tablespoon or two at a time
- spit-up looks green or brown
The pediatrician may suggest:
- burping the baby a few times during a feeding
- giving them more frequent, smaller meals
- keeping the baby upright for 30 minutes after eating
- over-the-counter or prescription medicines
You also may be referred to a pediatric gastroenterologist. Sometimes further testing is necessary.
Esophagitis is a general term for inflammatory irritation or swelling of the esophagus. Reflux esophagitis is a type of esophagitis associated with GERD. It’s caused by stomach acid backing up into the esophagus, damaging the tissues and often causes heartburn.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD is a chronic digestive disease that affects people of all ages, including children. It’s the more serious form of GER and can eventually pose greater health problems if left untreated. If acid reflux occurs more than twice a week, it’s considered GERD.
The majority of the estimated 30 million Americans diagnosed with GERD experience symptoms such as heartburn and regurgitation at night. Consult your doctor if you have symptoms or use OTC antacids or reflux medications for more than two weeks.
Written by: Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD