GERD/Heartburn in Children

A weak or relaxed muscle in a child’s esophagus may cause stomach acid to leak into the esophagus. This is called acid reflux and can lead to heartburn in children. If the acid damages your child’s esophagus, they have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Remarkable care for kids

  • Real-life solutions: At Rush, pediatricians, family medicine doctors and nurses understand the needs of children with problems related to GERD. They can work with you and your child so your child to alleviate their symptoms, while learning how to live a fit and healthy life. 
  • Family-centered care: Pediatric gastroenterologists at Rush University Children’s Hospital are dedicated to family-centered care. They believe your family should play an integral role in determining the best care plan to address your child’s unique needs and lifestyle.
  • Positive lifestyle changes: Dietitians at the Rush Nutrition and Wellness Center can help your family meet its weight and nutrition goals.
  • Care close to home: Pediatric gastroenterologists at Rush University Children’s Hospital are available to see patients at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Rush Oak Park Hospital in Oak Park and Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora.

What is GERD?

Many babies outgrow acid reflux and GERD when their digestive system matures — usually by their first birthday. But older children can development GERD, as well. In fact, they are more likely to develop GERD if they had it as a baby. Other causes of GERD in older children include the following:

  • Medications: Some medicines, like anti-depressants, can cause GERD.
  • Weight: Due to added pressure on the chest and abdomen, overweight or obese children are at greater risk for GERD.
  • Smoking: Smoking – and secondhand smoke -- can lead to GERD.
  • Genetics: Research has found that there may be a genetic or inherited component of GERD.

GERD symptoms in children

GERD symptoms in children vary according to age.

Infants with GERD may have these recurring symptoms:

  • Spitting up
  • Arching back, usually during or right after a feeding
  • Coughing
  • Colic
  • Gagging or trouble swallowing
  • Excessive fussiness, especially after feeding
  • Poor feeding and weight loss or failure to thrive

GERD symptoms in children and teens include recurring episodes of the following:

  • Heartburn (more likely in children over 12)
  • Bad breath
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the chest or the upper part of the abdomen
  • Problems swallowing or painful swallowing
  • Breathing problems
  • Vomiting

Talk to your child’s pediatrician or a pediatric gastroenterologist about your child’s symptoms. They can help determine if your child has GERD or if there are other reasons for your child’s symptoms.

Care for GERD in children at Rush

Treatment for your child’s GERD may include any of the following:

  • Feeding or diet changes
  • Lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and smoking cessation
  • Medication changes and adjustments
  • Over-the-counter or prescription medicines
  • Surgery, but this is only in extreme cases when other treatments aren’t effective

Depending on your child’s condition, one or more of these health care providers could be on your child’s health care team: