Many people believe that only adults experience heartburn, but it is also fairly common in children.
Symptoms of Heartburn
The symptoms of heartburn in children are much the same as they are in adults:
- A burning sensation in the chest
- Chest pain (small children may describe it as a stomachache)
- Chest tightness
In infants, the symptoms may include:
- Irritability with feeding
- Regurgitation with feeding
- Arching the back during feeding
Heartburn in children is most often caused by gastroesophageal reflux (GER), a condition where the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach (the esophageal sphincter) relaxes and stomach acid backs up into the esophagus.
Heartburn Triggers In Children
“Spicy foods can exacerbate the symptoms of GER,” says Edaire Cheng, M.D., Pediatric Gastroenterologist at Children’s Medical Center. GER in older children is often triggered by, or associated with:
- Fatty, greasy or fried foods
- Caffeinated beverages
- Chocolate or peppermint
- Acidic food/beverages like orange juice, colas and tomato sauce
- Exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke
GER is more common in infants than it is in older children because their esophageal sphincters are not as developed. “Infants also feed more often and spend a lot of time lying down, which predisposes them to a higher incidence of reflux,” says Dr. Cheng.
What to do if Your Child Suffers From Heartburn
Lifestyle modifications are often the first method of treatment for children with GER. Dr. Cheng recommends parents, while consulting the pediatrician first:
- Keep your infant or child in an upright position for at least 20 minutes after eating.
- Elevate the head of your child’s bed.
- Modify your child’s diet to exclude trigger foods.
- Try smaller, more frequent feedings in infants.
If lifestyle adjustments do not relieve symptoms, your pediatrician may refer your child to a pediatric gastroenterologist for additional treatments, which may include:
- Weight management
- Surgery (in severe cases that do not respond to other treatment methods)
Dr. Cheng completed her pediatric residency and pediatric gastroenterology fellowship at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center Dallas. She has received numerous honors and awards including the 2012 NASPGHAN Foundation/AstraZeneca Award for Disorders of the Upper GI Tract, and the 2013 American Gastroenterological Association Research Scholar Award. Dr. Cheng specializes in:
- Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE)
- Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disease
- Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER)
- Gastrointestinal Fibrosis