Definition & Facts for GER & GERD in Children & Teens

What is GER?

Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) happens when stomach contents come back up into the esophagus.

Stomach acid that touches the lining of the esophagus can cause heartburn, also called acid indigestion.

Does GER have another name?

Doctors also refer to GER as:

  • acid indigestion
  • acid reflux
  • acid regurgitation
  • heartburn
  • reflux

How common is GER in children and teens?

Occasional GER is common in children and teens—ages 2 to 19—and doesn’t always mean that they have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).1

What is GERD?

GERD is a more serious and long-lasting form of GER in which acid reflux irritates the esophagus.

What is the difference between GER and GERD?

GER that occurs more than twice a week for a few weeks could be GERD. GERD can lead to more serious health problems over time. If you think your child or teen has GERD, you should take him or her to see a doctor or a pediatrician.

How common is GERD in children and teens?

Up to 25 percent of children and teens have symptoms of GERD, although GERD is more common in adults.1

What are the complications of GERD in children and teens?

Without treatment, GERD can sometimes cause serious complications over time, such as:

Esophagitis

Esophagitis may lead to ulcerations, a sore in the lining of the esophagus.

Esophageal Stricture

An esophageal stricture happens when a person’s esophagus becomes too narrow. Esophageal strictures can lead to problems with swallowing.

Respiratory Problems

A child or teen with GERD might breathe stomach acid into his or her lungs. The stomach acid can then irritate his or her throat and lungs, causing respiratory problems or symptoms, such as

  • asthma—a long-lasting lung disease that makes a child or teen extra sensitive to things that he or she is allergic to
  • chest congestion, or extra fluid in the lungs
  • a dry, long-lasting cough or a sore throat
  • hoarseness—the partial loss of a child or teen’s voice
  • laryngitis—the swelling of a child or teen’s voice box that can lead to a short-term loss of his or her voice
  • pneumonia—an infection in one or both lungs—that keeps coming back
  • wheezing—a high-pitched whistling sound that happens while breathing

A pediatrician should monitor children and teens with GERD to prevent or treat long-term problems.

References

April 2015
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.