Health Information

Reflux

What is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that is caused by gastric acid flowing from the stomach into the esophagus.

Gastroesophageal refers to the stomach and esophagus, and reflux means to flow back or return. Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) is the return of acidic stomach juices, or food and fluids, back up into the esophagus.

GER is very common in infants, though it can occur at any age. It is the most common cause of vomiting during infancy.

What causes GERD?

GERD is often the result of conditions that affect the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES, a muscle located at the bottom of the esophagus, opens to let food in and closes to keep food in the stomach. When this muscle relaxes too often or for too long, acid refluxes back into the esophagus, causing vomiting or heartburn.

Everyone has gastroesophageal reflux from time to time. If you have ever burped and had an acid taste in your mouth, you have had reflux. The lower esophageal sphincter occasionally relaxes at inopportune times, and usually, all your child will experience is a bad taste in the mouth, or a mild, momentary feeling of heartburn.

Infants are more likely to have the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) relax when it should remain shut. As food or milk is digesting, the LES opens and allows the stomach contents to go back up the esophagus. Sometimes, the stomach contents go all the way up the esophagus and the infant or child vomits. Other times, the stomach contents only go part of the way up the esophagus, causing heartburn, breathing problems, or, possibly, no problems at all.

Some foods seem to affect the muscle tone of the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing it to stay open longer than normal. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • chocolate
  • peppermint
  • high-fat foods

Other foods increase acid production in the stomach, including:
  • citrus foods
  • tomatoes and tomato sauces

Treatment for GERD:

Specific treatment will be determined by your child's physician based on the following:
  • your child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • the expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference