The esophagus is a tube that transports food from the mouth to the stomach. Sometimes the muscle at the end of the esophagus does not close correctly. When this occurs, the food inside the stomach leaks into the esophagus, causing a condition called gastroesophageal reflux or GER.
People of all ages can suffer from gastroesophageal reflux. Symptoms of this condition include heartburn and the taste of stomach fluid in the mouth. The more serious form of the condition is called gastroesophageal reflux disease. People who encounter GER symptoms at least two times a week are often diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Gastroesophageal reflux is a common problem in children. Babies spit up milk and formula during the first year of life, while children and adolescents often suffer heartburn after consuming a heavy meal. When vomiting or spitting up becomes a problem, parents should take the child to the pediatrician for an examination.
Signs of a serious medical problem in children may include weight loss or failure to gain weight, continuous crying, choking, wheezing, and breathing difficulties. Children who regularly complain of pain in the upper abdomen or lower chest should also be taken to the doctor as these are further symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux. Children who have traces of blood in their vomit or who are anemic may also suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease.
When a doctor examines a child who may have acid reflux disease, he or she will usually perform a test called an upper gastrointestinal (GI) study. The child drinks a special liquid, and the doctor takes x-rays of the young patient's stomach, esophagus, and small intestine. The pediatrician may decide to refer the child to a GI doctor who will perform an endoscopy, a special test that examines the upper GI tract and stomach lining. A 24-hour pH probe is another test that requires the child to stay in the hospital. In order to perform a 24-hour pH probe, a probe is placed near the patient's stomach so that acid reflux episodes can be monitored.
GER can be controlled by providing children with frequent, smaller meals. Citrus juices and caffeine drinks should be avoided as these beverages only exacerbate a gastroesophageal reflux problem. Parents of infants can thicken their food with dry rice cereal in order to avoid GER symptoms. If dietary changes do not alleviate symptoms of GER, doctors can prescribe various medications that will help combat stomach acid reflux.