Gastroesophageal (GE) Reflux

photo of child and motherMost infants occasionally “spit up” or “throw up” after they eat. Some infants do this so often that they are said to have gastroesophageal reflux (GE reflux for short). This term describes splashing or pushing of stomach contents backwards up into the esophagus, and sometimes, out the mouth. All of us have some reflux every day. Most of the time, reflux causes no problems or discomfort, and often, we are not even aware when it happens.

When a baby throws up after nearly every feeding and numerous times between feedings, parents often become concerned and seek medical advice. They may be worried that there is something seriously wrong with their baby’s stomach or intestinal tract or that:
• there is a blockage or narrowing in the baby’s intestinal tract
• the baby is not keeping enough food down to grow
• the baby has an ulcer
• the baby is allergic to milk

Fortunately, in the vast majority of cases, none of these are true. Most of the time, reflux in infants and children is due to incoordination of the upper intestinal tract rather than to any distinct anatomic abnormality. As a result, almost all babies with gastroesophageal reflux will ultimately outgrow this problem!

Most children suffering from GE reflux are otherwise normal and healthy. However, children who have developmental or neurological disabilities are more likely to suffer from reflux than children who are neurologically normal, and their symptoms are often more severe and/or more persistent. Often, parents of children with disabilities become worried that the frequent vomiting associated with GE reflux may limit their child’s growth and development, or cause the child to aspirate and develop pneumonia or other respiratory symptoms.