Definition & Facts for GER & GERD in Infants

In this section:

What is GER?

Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) happens when stomach contents come back up into the esophagus. GER often causes regurgitation—stomach contents coming up through the esophagus and into the throat or mouth—and spitting up. Regurgitation and spitting up are normal in infants—babies younger than 1 year old.

Infant with spit-up on chin.In infants, GER often causes regurgitation and spitting up.

Does GER have another name?

Doctors also refer to GER in infants as

  • acid indigestion
  • acid reflux
  • acid regurgitation
  • heartburn
  • reflux
  • spitting up

How common is GER in infants?

GER and regurgitation are common in infants. Regurgitation may occur one or more times each day and is more common in infants younger than 6 months old.1 About 70 to 85 percent of infants have daily regurgitation by the age of 2 months.2 Most children no longer have GER symptoms by the time they are 12 to 14 months old.1

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. However, doctors and caregivers may find it difficult to determine whether an infant’s symptoms are bothersome and whether the symptoms are caused by GER or by something else.

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

How common is GERD in infants?

Experts aren’t sure how common GERD is in infants because the condition is difficult to diagnose.

Which infants are more likely to have GERD?

Any infant can have GERD. GERD is more common in premature infants. Infants 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 infants?

Infants with GERD may develop complications such as esophagitis, poor weight gain, and complications outside the esophagus. However, some of these complications may be signs of other, unrelated conditions that affect infants. Doctors may check for health problems other than GERD that could be causing these complications.

Esophagitis

Esophagitis is inflammation in the esophagus. Esophagitis may cause ulcers in the lining of the esophagus and bleeding. Over time, chronic esophagitis may increase the chance of developing esophageal stricture and Barrett’s esophagus.

Poor weight gain

Infants with GERD may spit up their food often or refuse to eat. These symptoms can cause an infant to gain less weight than expected or to lose weight.

Complications outside the esophagus

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

  • cough
  • laryngitis—inflammation of the voice box that can lead to a short-term loss of voice
  • pneumonia that keeps coming back
  • wheezing, a high-pitched whistling sound that happens while breathing

References

[1] Vandenplas Y. Chapter 10: Gastroesophageal reflux. In: Guandalini S, Dhawan A, Branski D, eds. Textbook of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition. Springer International Publishing; 2016:105–130.

[2] Czinn SJ, Blanchard S. Gastroesophageal reflux disease in neonates and infants: when and how to treat. Paediatric Drugs. 2013;15(1):19–27. doi:10.1007/s40272-012-0004-2

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.