Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is the medical and umbrella term for both heartburn and acid reflux. This unpleasant condition affects millions of adults and senior citizens worldwide, as well as an estimated 5% of all newborn infants each year. Infants suffering from symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease, such as heartburn, are at a great risk for developing a number of serious complications and health problems.
Symptoms of Heartburn in Infants
Many new and inexperienced parents are unaware of the possibility that their baby’s array of symptoms and obvious discomfort may be caused by the pain and complications of heartburn. The common symptoms of heartburn in babies include but are not limited to the following:
- Constant or uncontrollable crying
- Irritability and excessive fussiness
- Constant waking and or difficulty in falling asleep
- Loud and strained breathing
- Wheezing or coughing
- Noticeably foul-smelling breath
- Daily hiccups
- Chronic ear infections
- Chronic sinus infections
- Runny nose
- Problems swallowing, such as coughing, gagging, or choking
- Excessive production of drool
- Weight loss
- Inability to gain weight and slowed growth
- Hoarse voice
- Arching of the neck and back during and after feedings
- Swollen and red throat
- Dental problems such as loss of enamel, swollen and tender gums, or toothache
Causes of Heartburn in Infants
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or heartburn, in infants is caused by a malfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter, a large and powerful muscle located between the esophagus and the stomach. Ideally, the lower esophageal sphincter tightens immediately after foods and liquids reach the stomach, sealing off the contents. In infants with gastroesophageal reflux disease, the lower esophageal sphincter fails to tighten properly, allowing the contents of the stomach to flow backwards into the esophagus, causing pain and discomfort.
Treatment for Heartburn in Infants
If heartburn is suspected in an infant, the first recommended step is to contact a medical expert immediately, as testing and a solid diagnosis should be reached before attempting any sort of home treatment.
Most medical experts recommend slight changes in the feeding habits of infants suffering from heartburn. These changes typically include providing several small meals throughout the day, avoiding dressing the child in tight and form-fitting clothing, burping the child numerous times throughout feedings, and keeping the child propped up for extended periods of time after feedings.
Should an infant suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease not show an improvement in symptoms after feeding habits have been changed, the child’s physician may prescribe medications to treat the symptoms and prevent further damage to the esophagus.