How To Treat Your Teen's Acid Reflux (GERD)

8 Ways to Help Your Teen Cope With Heartburn

teen eating with stomach pain
How can you help your teen cope with the heartburn of acid reflux (GERD)?. Peter Zelei/E+/Getty Images

Dealing with Acid Reflux (GERD) in Teens - A Growing Problem

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or the heartburn that arises from acid reflux is becoming an increasing problem in teenagers. This is due in part to an increase in the consumption of fast food, which tends to be greasy and fatty and other adolescent dietary habits. The escalating rate of childhood obesity is also partially at fault.

If you suspect your teen is suffering from acid reflux, it is important that he or she sees a doctor. Your teen's doctor will be able to determine if a diagnosis of GERD is appropriate, and all other disorders with similar symptoms have been excluded.

The severity of your teen's GERD symptoms will determine the best treatment options. Here are 8 ways you can help your teen can lessen the severity of their heartburn symptoms.

1. Advocate Smaller, More Frequent Meals

Encourage your teens to cut down the size of their meals by explaining to them that large meals expand the stomach and can increase upward pressure against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which causes heartburn. Because teenagers are growing, they may feel hungry when they scale back their portion sizes. If this is the case, remind her that she can eat more often but that she doesn't want to eat until full at any one meal.

This transition to "snacking" may appeal to some teens.

2. Discuss Acid-Stimulating Foods and Beverages

Heartburn can be triggered by foods. Help your teen become familiar with these triggers. Also, try to keep common trigger foods, like the ones listed below, out of the house so that they won't be tempted and end up in pain.

 

  • Citrus fruits
  • Citrus juices
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Tomatoes and tomato-based products
  • Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee and energy drinks
  • Carbonated beverages, such as colas

To help your teen avoid these foods while at school, you can try to consider these tips and pack school lunches less likely to trigger heartburn. Typical school lunches are often high in acid-stimulating foods. Check out this list of foods which stimulate heartburn, as well as this list of foods that are safe for heartburn sufferers.

3. Have Your Teen Eat Two to Three Hours Before Bedtime

Late night snacking may be your child's bedtime ritual, but if they suffer from GERD, it can make for a painful, uncomfortable night's sleep. Try to dissuade your teen from eating during the two to three hour window before they go to bed.

Explain to your child that gravity helps keep the stomach juices from backing up in to the esophagus and assists the flow of food and digestive juices from the stomach to the intestines. If they go to sleep before their food has digested, they don't get to take advantage of gravity's forces.

4. Elevate Your Teen's Head While He Sleeps

Lying down flat presses the stomach's contents against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). With the head higher than the stomach, gravity helps reduce this pressure. Ask your teen's doctor how high to elevate the head of the bed. It's thought by some digestive health specialists that elevating the entire head of the bed (by actually placing bricks or something under the feet of the head of the bed so that the bed is at a slight slant) works better than using pillows alone. Your doctor may also suggest using an acid reflux bed or a wedge pillow to elevate your teen's head while sleeping.

5. Encourage Loose-Fitting Clothes 

Recommending clothes for your teen might be difficult since trends and fashion usually dictate what your teen may wear; however, if you talk to her about how dressing for comfort can ease her heartburn, it may be easier. Explain to your teen how clothing that is tight around the abdomen squeezes the stomach, forcing food up against the LES, causing food to reflux (shoot back up) in to the esophagus. Clothing that can cause problems includes tight-fitting belts, tight-waisted jeans, and slenderizing garments.

6. Keep a Heartburn Record

Buy your teen a journal and have him record when he experiences heartburn symptoms, what foods were consumed or what activity he was doing before the heartburn occurred. The severity of each heartburn episode and what gave him relief should also be noted. (He can rank his discomfort on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most discomfort he can imagine and 1 being pain that is barely there.) Have your teen bring this information to his doctor who can assist him in making modifications to his diet or activity, and make changes in his medications if needed. As a parent this also allows someone else to be the "bad guy" once in awhile if you are tired of the typical teens less-than-enthusiastic reactions to your suggestions.

7. Take Antacids

Antacids neutralize stomach acid. If your child is needing an antacid for more than a week or so, or if an antacid doesn't quickly resolve her symptoms, make sure you make an appointment with her doctor. Using an antacid for more than one to two weeks should only be done with the guidance of your physician.

8. Use Heartburn Medications, If All Else Fails

If your teen has made dietary and lifestyle changes which reduce heartburn without success, it may be time to use one of the stronger heartburn medications. Beyond antacids, there are two primary categories of heartburn medications. Every teen is different, and your teen's physician can recommend which of these medications may be most effective. Options include:

  • Acid blockers, also known as H2 blockers, block acid production in the stomach. Your teen's doctor many prescribe a H2 blocker if lifestyle modifications don't sufficiently prevent symptoms. H2 blockers include Tagamet (cimetidine), Pepcid (famotidine), Zantac (ranitidine). and Axid (nizatidine).
  • Acid suppressors, also known as Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), completely block acid production in the stomach. Your teen's doctor may prescribe a PPI if lifestyle modifications or other medications do not sufficiently control reflux symptoms. PPIs include Prilosec (omeprazole), Prevacid (lansoprazole), Nexium (esomeprozole), Aciphex (rabeprazole), and Protonix (pantoprazole). However, long-term use of these drugs has been associated with kidney disease, heart attack, and bone fractures, so discuss these side effects with your teen's physician. Long-term acid reflux can also result in complications, and your teen's doctors can help you weigh the risks and benefits of treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Acid reflux is frustrating enough if you have to cope with it yourself, but trying to help a testy teen cope is often much more difficult. The best treatments are prevention, and making changes to your teens diet, sleeping position, and activity is the best way to begin. Unfortunately, medications may be needed if her symptoms are not controlled by these efforts, or if she is a typical teen and simply finds it too difficult to follow through on lifestyle changes.

Involving your teen's doctor can be helpful, not only in learning more about how to control her symptoms and finding a medication which helps, but because it involves another adult who can support and back you in the suggestions you have made. Eventually most teens outgrow the adolescent angst, and take a greater role in reducing symptoms they must cope with.

Sources:

Baird, D., Harker, D., and A. Karmes. Diagnosis and Treatment of Gastroesophageal Reflux in Infants and Children. American Family Physician. 2015. 92(8):705-14.

Lightdale, J., Gremse, D., and Section of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition. Gastroesophageal Reflux: Management Guidance for the Pediatrician. Pediatrics. 131(5):e1684-95.

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