Foods That Trigger Heartburn
Some of the foods that may contribute to heartburn in infants and children include:
- Too much food
- Fatty foods
- Spicy foods
Gastroesophogeal reflux (GER) is the upward flow of stomach contents from the stomach into the esophagus ("swallowing tube"). While not required by its definition, these contents may continue from the esophagus into the pharynx (throat) and may be expelled from the mouth. GER differs from vomiting in that it is generally not associated with a violent ejection. Moreover, GER is generally a singular event in time whereas the vomiting process is commonly several back-to-back events that may ultimately completely empty all stomach contents and yet still persist ("dry heaves"). The difference between GER and GERD (gastroesophogeal reflux disease) is a matter of severity and associated consequences to the patient.
The large majority of healthy, full term infants will have episodes of "spitting up" or "wet burps," which technically qualify to be considered GER. These infants generally do not seem in distress before, during, or after by the reflux process. Likewise, the loss of calories as an outcome of GER is inconsequential since growth parameters including weight gain are not affected. Lastly, there seem to be no short or long term consequences of these reflux experiences. In short, infants with GER are "messy spitters."
The very name of GERD ("disease") implies a much different condition. Infants and children with GERD often experience distress as a consequence of their reflux even if the refluxed stomach contents are not completely ejected from the mouth. Infants and young children may loose so many calories by expulsion that growth is compromised. Some infants or children with GERD may even become averse to feeding due to repeated associations with feeding and pain. Finally, there are a number of short and long term consequences of GERD that are not associated with infants and children with GER. These will be discussed further in this article.
Infants with GER are a reflection of their immature nervous system. In most infants the junction between the esophagus and stomach is "closed," opening only to allow passage of formula or breast milk into the stomach or to allow the escape of swallowed air via burping.
During episodes of reflux, this junction is continuously open allowing a backwards flow of stomach contents into the esophagus. This reverse flow may occur as a consequence of a relatively large volume of fluid relative to a smaller stomach volume, pressure on the abdominal cavity (for example, placed face down [prone] following a feeding), or overfeeding. Infant GER occurs in over 50% of healthy infants with a peak incidence (65%) at approximately 4 months of age. Most episodes resolve by 12 months of age.
GERD also reflects an opening of the esophageal-stomach junction similar to infant GER. The reasons for GERD, however, are not considered to reflect an immature nervous system. Factors that may contribute to GERD in infants and children include:
Some of the foods that may contribute to heartburn in infants and children include:
Infants with GER generally have no symptoms other than the obvious reflux of fluid out the mouth. As noted previously, they do not appear to have any discomfort associated with their reflux.
Infants and children with GERD may have multiple symptoms including:
The diagnosis of GER is based upon characteristic historical facts reported by the infant's parents coupled with an elimination of pathological conditions by a normal physical exam. It is very rare to need laboratory studies to establish or support the diagnosis.
The diagnosis of GERD is often accomplished by the pediatrician taking a thorough history supported by a complete physical examination enabling the elimination of other conditions that might cause similar symptoms. While rare, studies may be necessary to either establish/support the diagnosis of GERD or to determine the extent of damage caused by the repeated reflux events.
These studies may include:
Since the fundamental issue for infants with GER is "tincture of time," most infants need no specific therapy. Lifestyle adjustments which have been helpful for some infants include:
It is rare, however, an infant may require medications to bridge the gap during the neurologic maturation process that enables your child to "outgrow" his or her GER. These medications are discussed later.
It is rare for an infant with GER to generate substantial discomfort, demonstrate aversion to feeding, or show suboptimal weight gain. Conversely, toddlers and older children may experience more substantial symptoms, and thus may need a trial of lifestyle modifications including:
There are several groups of medications that may need to be considered in certain cases of infant GER (rare) or toddler/childhood GERD. These include:
The use of these medications follows a stepwise approach (from #1 to #4) based upon severity of symptoms. Consultation with a pediatric gastroenterologist may be helpful for patients whose response to the above approach is disappointing.
There are very cases where children whose GERD is so severe that a surgical procedure must be considered to manage symptoms. The procedure, called a Nissen fundoplication, involves wrapping the top part of the stomach around the lower esophagus. The displaced stomach contracts during the digestive process, and thus closes off the lower esophagus and prevents reflux. In extraordinary circumstances, a feeding tube directly into the stomach is necessary to complement the Nissen fundoplication.
The prognosis for infants with GER is excellent. The majority of infants will have resolved their symptoms by 9 to 12 months of age. Infants who required medications during the first few months of life generally "outgrow" their medication during the end of the first year of life.
Children who experience GERD symptoms also have a favorable prognosis though it may require longer use of medications and utilization of life style changes for many months. It is important to note that classic "heartburn" symptoms may resolve, but more subtle evidence of reflux (for example, persisting cough, especially when laying face up [supine]) may develop. Your child's pediatrician is a valuable asset to help monitor for these less obvious presentations of GERD.
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Signs and symptoms of the more serious causes include dehydration, bloody or black tarry stools, severe abdominal pain, pain with no urination or painful urination.
Treatment for abdominal pain depends upon the cause.
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