The word reflux means to flow back or return; ‘gastro’ is a term related to the stomach, and ‘oesophageal’ relates to the oesophagus (food pipe).
Following this, the term ‘gastro-oesophageal reflux’ is where stomach contents (comprising food and stomach acid) flow back into the oesophagus.
This can commonly be seen with babies who posset following a feed, although it can be so much more than that. Gastro-oesophageal reflux can range in severity from being an occasional nuisance to being severe and debilitating. It can also improve or worsen for a variety of reasons, with a child having good or bad days or weeks.
There can be a lot of confusion about gastro-oesophageal reflux because the term is often used to describe a single event, the condition and the disease (Orenstein, 1992).
The act of refluxing is a single event; it is a normal process that virtually everyone does at times. When a child refluxes more frequently, doctors may diagnose it as gastro-oesophageal reflux, the condition (GOR). When a child has complications as a result of their reflux, doctors may diagnose it as gastro-oesophageal reflux, the disease (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease – GORD).
It is important to remember not all vomiting or irritability is indicative of reflux, and families should seek a medical opinion to find the cause of their baby or child’s signs/symptoms.
Reflux Infants Support Association (RISA) Inc supports families of babies and children who have been diagnosed with either gastro-oesophageal reflux or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. Families who do not have a diagnosis are encouraged to talk to their child’s doctor or child health nurse.
While awareness of reflux seems to be growing, many families still face community perceptions of reflux being a common or even trivial complaint that babies get over. While in most cases this is true, children can experience a wide range of symptoms, some quite severe, resulting in complications and occasionally surgery. Signs and symptoms of reflux, such as refusal to feed or prolonged bouts of screaming can be stressful and overwhelming.
Even when a baby or child is suffering from relatively uncomplicated reflux, families often need reassurance and enjoy talking to someone who understands.
For the families whose baby or child suffers complications as a result of their reflux, it is even more important that they can talk to other parents, and have the support and reassurance they need to get through this stressful experience.
This article is written for the benefit of reflux parents, based on the experiences of reflux parents. It is not meant to replace medical advice and is of a general nature only. If you have any questions or concerns, please seek advice from your medical professional.
Written by Glenda Blanch, RISA Inc member and author of Reflux Reality: A Guide for Families in association with RISA Inc © 2010.
Additional information on gastro-oesophageal reflux is provided in our book Reflux Reality: A Guide for Families.
Information reviewed by:
Dr Anthony Catto-Smith
Director, Department of Gastroenterology and Clinical Nutrition
Royal Children’s Hospital
Melbourne, Victoria Australia
With the exception of Professor Geoff Cleghorn’s presentation, which is his own work.
Information last updated:
- Orenstein, S. R. (1992). Gastroesophageal Reflux. Pediatrics in Review, 13, 174 – 182.
- Strudwick, S. (2003). Gastro-oesophageal reflux and feeding: the speech and language therapist’s perspective. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, International Congress Series 1254, 131 – 33.
Different techniques work for different refluxers so trial and error are needed to identify any that may help you. They may work for refluxers and silent refluxers alike. If you have any concerns, please discuss these with your child’s doctor or Child Health Nurse.
A child with reflux will not necessarily display all of these symptoms, and the number of signs exhibited does not indicate the severity of their reflux. If you suspect your child may have reflux or have any questions or concerns, it is important to discuss them with your child’s doctor or child health nurse.
Have you ever been to the doctor and been confronted with a treatment you knew nothing about and an explanation that left you just as confused? How do you decide which treatment is best for you? What are a treatment’s harms, benefits and objectives? If you have ever struggled with any of these questions, please consider visiting the Cochrane Collaboration Library.