Acid reflux in kids on the rise

Published On: Mar 11 2014 02:06:29 PM EDT
Updated On: Mar 12 2014 07:40:00 AM EDT

When Mara Parker's daughter Sophie had just started Kindergarden, she began complaining daily of a sore throat and stomach ache.

"Honestly, I thought that she was faking it cause I thought that she didn't want to go to school! I never imagined what could be a sore throat and a stomach, " she said.

Her son Max had very different symptoms.

"He was doubled over in pain, clutching his chest, you know, saying it was hard to breathe," said Parker.

The doctor diagnosed both kids with acid reflux.

"I was very surprised," said Parker. "I never heard of kids getting it."

Sophie and Max are not alone. Now some experts say they're seeing more kids needing treatment for acid reflux.

"Over the past couple of years I would say that it has increased probably about 50% in the amount of patients that we're seeing," said Kristi King with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"We see it from newborn, even premature infants to the children going to college," said Pediatric Gastroenterologist Dr. Karla Au Yeung. "We don't know how to prevent it from ever coming on because we don't exactly know what starts it for a lot of people."

Au Yeung says she's not only getting more reflux patients, but in many cases their symptoms are more severe.

"Some patients might have problems with breathing, some might throw up and some, for children, might not be able to eat enough to gain weight properly," she said.

Experts say the best way to treat reflux in kids is to start by modifying diet and lifestyle, like cutting out foods that aggravate the issue.

"Consuming foods that are really high in fat, that are very spicy, that are very acidic can all cause gastric reflux to be even worse." explained King. Carbonated beverages can also make reflux worse for kids."

King works with children to manage their reflux. She recommends kids have smaller more frequent meals throughout the day, avoid eating too close to bed time, and get an hour of exercise each day since being overweight can also aggravate symptoms.

"That 60 minutes is going to be really important in making sure we keep your child healthy, so that you can prevent or diminish the reflux symptoms," she said.

If lifestyle modifications don't alleviate symptoms, kids may need over the counter or even prescription medication. But Au Yeung says rarely there are patients who end up getting surgery for reflux.

As for the Parkers, Sophie's symptoms stopped when she was 10, and Max takes medication twice daily.  His mom hopes someday he'll outgrow it as well.

One doctor points out that because reflux symptoms can change and vary with age, it is difficult to get a firm number of just how many kids have it. But for more information on acid reflux in children, click here.

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