Symptoms & Causes of GER & GERD in Children & Teens

What are the symptoms of GER and GERD in children and teens?

If a child or teen has gastroesophageal reflux (GER), he or she may taste food or stomach acid in the back of the mouth.

Symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in children and teens can vary depending on their age. The most common symptom of GERD in children 12 years and older is regular heartburn, a painful, burning feeling in the middle of the chest, behind the breastbone, and in the middle of the abdomen. In many cases, children with GERD who are younger than 12 don’t have heartburn.

Other common GERD symptoms include

  • bad breath
  • nausea
  • pain in the chest or the upper part of the abdomen
  • problems swallowing or painful swallowing
  • respiratory problems
  • vomiting
  • the wearing away of teeth

What causes GER and GERD in children and teens?

GER and GERD happen when a child or teen’s lower esophageal sphincter becomes weak or relaxes when it shouldn’t, causing stomach contents to rise up into the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter becomes weak or relaxes due to certain things, such as

  • increased pressure on the abdomen from being overweight, obese, or pregnant
  • certain medicines, including
    • those used to treat asthma—a long-lasting disease in the lungs that makes a child or teen extra sensitive to things that he or she is allergic to
    • antihistamines—medicines that treat allergy symptoms
    • painkillers
    • sedatives—medicines that help put someone to sleep
    • antidepressants—medicines that treat depression
  • smoking,which is more likely with teens than younger children, or inhaling secondhand smoke

Other reasons a child or teen develops GERD include

  • previous esophageal surgery
  • having a severe developmental delay or neurological condition, such as cerebral palsy

When should I seek a doctor's help?

Call a doctor right away if your child or teen

  • vomits large amounts
  • has regular projectile, or forceful, vomiting
  • vomits fluid that is
    • green or yellow
    • looks like coffee grounds
    • contains blood
  • has problems breathing after vomiting
  • has mouth or throat pain when he or she eats
  • has problems swallowing or pain when swallowing
  • refuses food repeatedly, causing weight loss or poor growth
  • shows signs of dehydration, such as no tears when he or shes cries
April 2015

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.