Heartburn is a symptom in children typically caused by gastroesophageal reflux, which is when stomach acid rises towards the chest and throat. This happens when the lower esophageal sphincter muscle relaxes and is unable to block the stomach acid from coming back up to the esophagus. In adults and older children, heartburn symptoms are typically a burning sensation in the chest or the throat. However, younger children and infants experience different symptoms.
Infants up to 12 to 24 months
The most common symptom is spitting up which occurs in almost all infants. It can worsen around 3 to 4 months, but is usually resolved by the time the child turns 1 to 2 years old. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, other symptoms may indicate a more severe form of gastroesophageal reflux and can include: vomiting, difficulty eating or swallowing, fussiness or crying, poor growth, coughing, or bloody stools. If your child experiences any of these severe symptoms, contact your child's physician.
Older Children 2 to 12 years old
As children get older, the symptoms seem to subside and typically occur after eating a meal. NIDDK indicates symptoms as coughing, sore throat, wheezing, feeling discomfort in the chest, pneumonia, or difficulty and painful swallowing. If your child's symptoms are frequent, your child's pediatrician should be contacted.
Teenagers 13 and older
Adolescents and teens experience the same symptoms as older children, but they also experience heartburn, similar to adults. Severe symptoms should be reported to your child's doctor.
Ways to avoid or decrease symptoms
There are ways to help decrease symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux for both infants and children. For infants, decrease the amount in each bottle and provide your child with more frequent feedings. Try to not overfeed. Also, for both infants and older children and teenagers, have them sit or stand upright after eating. Additionally, for adolescents and older children, the Children's Digestive Health and Nutrition Foundation offers these suggestions: eat small meals frequently, decrease carbonated drinks or caffeine, avoid high fat, spicy or citrus foods, and try not to eat about two to three hours before going to bed.
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- Children's Digestive Health & Nutrition Foundation: Parent's Take Home Guide to GERD
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Gastroesophageal Reflux in Infants
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Gastroesophageal Reflux in Children and Adolescents