heartburn in infants and children expert guide

Heartburn In Infants And Children

What Is Heartburn In Infants And Children

Heartburn in infants and children is the burning or irritating sensation in the mouth or throat. So, simply means heartburn can also occur in children as well as in infants.

In fact, as per various reports worldwide, it is seen that about 2 percent of children between 3 to 9 years of age and 5 percent of children between 10 to 17 years old experience heartburn. So, heartburn in infants and children are not that much uncommon.

Sometimes symptoms can start in infancy, so burning sensation in the chest known as heartburn in infants and children are not uncommon. In fact many times , heartburn in teenager go away on its own, so needs no special attention.

What Causes Heartburn In Infants And Children?

There are several reasons of heartburn in infants and children. The common reasons are the following

  • Heartburn in infants and children occurs when stomach acid goes back into the food pipe esophagus and causes a burning sensation in the chest and throat. This occurs when LES (a valve made of muscles) that is present where the food pipe meets the stomach is relaxed or not functioning properly.

Normally when food enters the stomach, this LES (lower esophageal sphincter) opens and then it closes tightly so that no stomach content can go back into the food pipe. When this mechanism fails and LES remains relaxed or opened then heartburn occurs. Due to the same reason , heartburn in teenager occurs.

GERD which is a more serious form of heartburn occurs in more than 1 percent of infants.

  • In infants and very young children, the cause of heartburn can be due to immature digestive tract.
  • Heartburn in teenager or in older children most common causes are eating spicy foods and various other foods that increase chances of heartburn.
  • Overweight and exposure to second hand smoke can also be a cause of heartburn.
  • Children with neurological problem (example- cerebral palsy, etc.) has greater risk to experience heartburn.

Heartburn In Infants And Children Symptoms

Consider the fact that specially for infants they can not express the symptoms of heartburn like adults. Sometimes it is seen that the mothers who experience heartburn during their pregnancy, their babies are more prone to develop heartburn. The symptoms of heartburn in the infants and children are the following

  • There is a burning sensation in the chest or throat. One also feels it as a stomachache higher in the belly. Overall there is a feeling of discomfort.
  • A bitter, acidic, or salty taste in the mouth or throat.
  • It is found that infants with heartburn may not gain weight properly.

Heartburn In Infants And Children Complications

When heartburn is present for a longer period of time then it can lead to GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease). If it is left untreated, then it may lead to

  • Narrowing of the food pipe (esophagus)
  • Feeding problems
  • Breathing problems, etc.
  • Ulcer in the food pipe is also common.

There are several other symptoms of GERD such as

  • Painful swallowing
  • Poor eating
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Arching of the back during feeding
  • Fussiness, etc.

The above mentioned symptoms may also be seen in other conditions, so to know if the condition is GERD or heartburn, a thorough medical evaluation is needed.

Heartburn In Infants And Children Diagnostic Tests

If your child shows any symptoms of GERD or heartburn, then you need to consult with a pediatrician. After examining your child, the doctor may give some tests, especially when heartburn is caused by GERD. The diagnostic tests are the following

Upper gastrointestinal series

Your child drinks a chalky liquid containing barium (Contrast material), then X-rays will be taken of the esophagus, stomach and intestines.


Under sedation, a small, flexible tube with camera is inserted into the esophagus and stomach through mouth. So doctor can view these areas and sometimes if needed then can remove a sample of tissues for biopsy.

Esophageal pH probe

A thin flexible tube is inserted through the child’s nose and into the esophagus. It helps to test the acid levels in the food pipe (esophagus).

Study of gastric emptying

Your child drinks milk containing a special radioactive material and then the doctor with the help of a camera, watch the substances that move through the digestive tract.

Heartburn In Infants And Children Treatment

Heartburn usually improves with time and most of the cases usually resolve within the child’s first birthday. But if the heartburn persists, then treatment should be started with proper evaluation. Treatment of heartburn varies according to the age of child and the cause of heartburn.

Determining the cause of heartburn in infants and children are very important. Otherwise the proper treatment can not be given. The main motto of treatment is to remove the cause of heartburn as well as to give relief the patient from heartburn symptoms.

Heartburn in infants and children home remedy

There are several home methods that help to treat heartburn. These home remedies are the following

1. Let your infant to sleep in more upright position. This position prevents the stomach acid and acidic contents to go back to the food pipe. So, chances of getting heartburn is prevented.

2. After feeding, keep your infant upright for about 30 minutes. This is also a helpful method that prevents the stomach acidic contents to go back to the food pipe. So, heartburn is prevented.

3. Thickening the baby formula that your infant eats, may be of some help.

4. Instead of giving two or three large meals, give your child small meals throughout the day. It is an effective method to prevent heartburn.

5. After taking meals, don’t let your child to go to bed for at least three hours.

6. Avoid to give your child spicy food, fried food, acidic food, caffeinated drink, chocolate, etc. All these foods cause heartburn. So avoiding these foods prevent heartburn to occur.

7. Let your child to have a good sleep. Good sleep prevents heartburn to occur.

8. Let your child to drink adequate water throughout the day. This is a highly effective method to avoid heartburn.

Heartburn in infants and children medication

Heartburn when not improve on it’s own and all the home methods fail to give relief then medication may be needed, but these are not the first line of treatment.

Drugs that are used in the treatment of heartburn are-

  • H2 blocker
  • Proton pump inhibitor

These two drugs help to reduce the stomach acid production, so less acid will go back into the food pipe and chances of getting heartburn will be less.


Heartburn in infants and children needs proper care. It should not be ignored. Delay in getting treatments can result in long term complications. Earlier a treatment is started, earlier a patient gets cured.

With proper evaluation and proper treatment, heartburn usually go away. A healthy child brings healthier tomorrow. Stay healthy and happy.


  1. Psychiatry, 2 Volume Set Book By Wiley
  2. Year Book of Psychiatry and Applied Mental Health 2012
  3. Textbook of Psychiatry E-Book, Elsevier
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