Acid Reflux in Teenagers

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment for GERD

Young woman with Pantozolpills. Credit: Ulrich Baumgarten / Contributor / Getty Images

While chronic heartburn and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) are often considered to be adult disorders, they are becoming more common among children and teens. That's in part because of teenagers' fondness for fast food, as well as their ever-expanding waistlines.

What Causes Acid Reflux?

Under normal conditions, food passes through the esophagus, and the muscle at the bottom of your esophagus - -the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) -- closes off so food and liquids will remain in your stomach.

When the LES doesn't close properly, stomach contents and acid can back up into the esophagus.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux in Teenagers

The following symptoms may occur if your teenager is experiencing acid reflux:

  • Burning sensation in the chest, behind the breastbone, squeezing and radiating to the back, lasting from a few minutes to hours
  • Burning sensation in the esophagus
  • Nausea
  • A sore, raw throat, especially upon waking in the mornings
  • Hoarseness
  • Bad breath
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Feeling like food is stuck in the throat
  • Feeling of choking that wakes him during the night
  • Respiratory problems (such as bronchitis, wheezing, asthma)
  • Nagging dry cough

Diagnosing Acid Reflux in Teens

Your child's doctor may base a diagnosis of acid reflux on your child's symptoms, a physical examination and your child's response to medical treatment. For example, if your child's symptoms improve after treating with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), then it's probably GERD.

If your child's symptoms do not improve, the doctor may order tests to determine if GERD is the cause of the reflux. These tests may include one of the following:

  • Barium x-rays: Also known as barium swallow, these are diagnostic x-rays in which barium is used to diagnose abnormalities of the digestive tract.
  • Esophageal pH monitoring: This test will measure the acidity in your child's esophagus.
  • Upper endoscopy: A tube with a camera lens and light is inserted through your child's mouth and into esophagus and stomach. The doctor may use this procedure to see if there is a narrowing (stricture) or inflammation (esophagitis) in the esophagus.

Treating Acid Reflux in Teens

The doctor may first suggest lifestyle modifications to see if these will ease the reflux symptoms. If reflux symptoms continue, the doctor may suggestion one of the following remedies:

  • Antacids: Antacids neutralize stomach acid. They include Tums (Calcium Carbonate), Rolaids (Calcium Carbonate), Mylanta (Aluminum Hydroxide and Magnesium Hydroxide), and Maalox (Aluminum Hydroxide and Magnesium Hydroxide).
  • Acid Suppressers: These suppress acid production in the stomach. They include Tagamet (cimetidine), Pepcid (famotidine), Zantac (ranitidine). and Axid (nizatidine).
  • Acid Blockers: These completely block acid production in the stomach. Prilosec (omeprazole), Prevacid (lansoprazole), Nexium (esomeprazole), Aciphex (raberprazole), and Protonix (pantoprazole).

    Lifestyle Modifications to Ease Acid Reflux

    The first line of attack is generally to try lifestyle modifications. These include:

    • Eating smaller meals (not eating to a point of feeling "stuffed")
    • Eat more slowly
    • Avoid heartburn-triggering foods
    • Avoid eating right before bedtime
    • Prop yourself up with pillows while sleeping
    • Wear clothes with loose waistbands

    For more information on these and other lifestyle modifications, read this article.


    Marsha Kay, M.D., Vasundhara Tolia, M.D.. "COMMON GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS IN PEDIATRIC PATIENTS." The American College of Gastroenterology. 26 Jan 2008.

    "Heartburn, Hiatal Hernia, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 07-0882 May 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. 26 Jan 2008.

    Brian Pace, MA, Richard M. Glass, MD. "Gastroesophageal Reflux in Children." JAMA, July 19, 2000---Vol 284, No. 3. The Journal of the American Medical Association. 26 Jan 2008.

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