Infant and pediatric GERD/acid reflux treatment, Denver

Many infants experience acid reflux or heartburn. It is one of the most common reasons a baby spits up or vomits. Most infants outgrow this condition by 12 months old. When the condition persists, prevents the baby from gaining weight and/or causes breathing problems, the baby may be experiencing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children (RMHC) team of pediatric gastroenterologists, pediatric surgeons and highly trained pediatric support staff offer specialized diagnosis and treatment for babies and children affected by GERD.

Additionally, our facility is uniquely equipped to handle the needs of infants and children undergoing corrective surgery.

GERD in infants

Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when stomach contents, such as food, fluid and acidic stomach juices, return from the stomach into the esophagus (the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach). The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is the muscle at the end of the esophagus that opens to allow food to enter the stomach and then closes to keep it there. If the LES does not function properly—relaxing too often or for too long—reflux occurs. Many infants experience GER during the first year of life due to an exclusively liquid diet, underdeveloped LES and lying down frequently. However, he or she may be experiencing GERD when the condition continues past the one year mark and/or is accompanied by one or more of the following:

  • Spits up forcefully/projectile vomits (especially green or yellow)
  • Is not gaining weight
  • Gags or chokes frequently
  • Wheezes or coughs at night
  • Is not interested in eating

Complications of GERD include failure to thrive (when not enough nutrition is absorbed by the body) and breathing trouble (when stomach contents come up through the esophagus and spill over into the windpipe leading to asthma, pneumonia, or other respiratory concerns).

GERD/acid reflux diagnosis in infants and children

Reflux often is diagnosed with a simple physical examination and description of the baby’s symptoms. If reflux is leading to breathing problems or growing concerns, a chest X-ray, upper GI series, upper endoscopy, pH testing or gastric emptying study may be required. Your pediatric gastroenterology team will work with you to determine what tests are necessary for your child’s individual needs.

GERD/acid reflux treatment for infants and children

As long as the baby is eating, growing and does not have breathing issues, infant acid reflux can be treated with lifestyle changes and/or mild medication. Smaller and more frequent feedings, consistent burping, holding the baby upright for 30 minutes after eating and/or raising the crib to a 30 degree angle (using pillows or rolled towels under the mattress) may be recommended. Medications also may be prescribed to decrease the acidity of the stomach juices to reduce the pain associated with reflux.

If the diagnostic tests reveal that the baby’s reflux is severe, causing inflammation (esophagitis), a narrowing of the esophagus (stricture) and/or Barrett’s esophagus (a changing of the esophageal cells, which has been linked to cancer), corrective surgery may be necessary. This surgery, called a fundoplication, reinforces the LES to correct reflux.

To talk with our teams about the diagnosis and treatment of GERD, call (303) 563-3300 or our physician referral line at (877) 752-2737

Long-term outlook for GERD in infants and children

Most babies will outgrow reflux, and babies with more serious cases often will have the condition fully managed by medications, lifestyle, diet changes or corrective surgery.