Definition & Facts for GER & GERD in Children

In this section:

What is GER?

Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) happens when stomach contents come back up into the esophagus. Many people, including children between 1 and 18 years old, have GER once in a while. GER often happens without causing symptoms. In some cases, GER may cause

  • heartburn, also called acid indigestion
  • regurgitation, or stomach contents coming up through the esophagus and into the throat or mouth

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?

Having GER once in a while is common.

What is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more severe and long-lasting condition in which GER causes repeated symptoms that are bothersome or leads to complications over time. The symptoms of GERD in older children and teens may be similar to the symptoms of GERD in adults. However, signs and symptoms of GERD in younger children may be different.

If you think your child has GERD, you should take him or her to see a doctor or pediatrician.

Mother holding child while a pediatrician listens to the child’s heart with a stethoscope.If you think your child has GERD, he or she should see a doctor.

How common is GERD in children?

Few large studies have examined how common GERD is in children. Research suggests that about 10 percent of children may have GERD symptoms at least once a week.1 Research also suggests that GERD is more common among children age 10 and older than among younger children.1

Which children are more likely to have GERD?

Any child can have GERD. GERD is more common in children who are overweight, have obesity, or have a large waist size. Children with certain health conditions that affect the esophagus, nervous system, or lungs are also more likely to have GERD.

What are the complications of GERD in children?

Without treatment, GERD can sometimes cause serious complications over time. A pediatrician should monitor children with GERD to prevent or treat long-term problems, such as esophagitis, esophageal stricture, and Barrett’s esophagus, as well as complications outside the esophagus.

Esophagitis

Esophagitis is inflammation in the esophagus. Esophagitis may cause ulcers in the lining of the esophagus and bleeding. Chronic esophagitis increases the chance of developing esophageal stricture and Barrett’s esophagus.

Esophageal stricture

An esophageal stricture happens when the esophagus becomes too narrow. Esophageal strictures can lead to problems with swallowing.

Barrett’s esophagus

GERD can sometimes lead to Barrett’s esophagus, a condition in which tissue that is similar to the lining of the intestine replaces the tissue lining the esophagus. A small number of people with Barrett’s esophagus develop a type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

Complications outside the esophagus

Some children with GERD also have complications in the mouth, throat, or lungs. These complications may include

  • asthma
  • chronic cough
  • hoarseness
  • laryngitis—inflammation of the voice box that can lead to a short-term loss of voice
  • pneumonia that keeps coming back
  • wearing away of tooth enamel
  • wheezing—a high-pitched whistling sound that happens while breathing

References

[1] Singendonk M, Goudswaard E, Langendam M, et al. Prevalence of gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms in infants and children: a systematic review. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. 2019;68(6):811–817. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000002280

Last Reviewed November 2020
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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 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.