With our fast paced lives, it’s no wonder that it seems more people suffer from upset stomachs and indigestion. We often eat in a hurry, on the go, and not the best of choices.
In my profession, I have seen a number of children and even babies diagnosed with stomach issues such as gastroesophageal reflux or GER. Sometimes stomach contents back into the esophagus. This is usually because the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes which is normal but can happen more frequently in some children. The diaphragm also plays a role in supporting the lower esophageal sphincter. When both the sphincter and the diaphragm aren’t working properly, that’s when acid reflux occurs. Symptoms include fussiness, frequently spitting up, hiccups, gagging or choking, and projectile vomiting among others. It is important to see your pediatrician with this problem because the symptoms may well advance to gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. With repeated irritation to not only the esophagus, but also the lungs due to aspirating stomach contents, this can be a very serious problem. Most children outgrow acid reflux, but children with developmental or neurological conditions can have more severe lasting symptoms often causing weight loss and even malnutrition.
Treatment options vary. In babies, doctors usually suggest either a formula change or adding infant cereal in prescribed amounts to the breastmilk or formula. Also of importance is making sure the infant is in a more vertical position while eating and for a short time after eating. In children, changes may include avoiding certain foods that trigger the symptoms by increasing levels of stomach acid. Spicy foods, fatty or fried foods, tomato based foods, and citrus fruits are just some of the culprits. As with the infants, children should remain upright for a time after ingesting a meal and even have the head of their bed elevated 6-8 inches to minimize reflux issues at night. Even with these treatments some children are placed on medication such as proton pump inhibitors that reduce the level of acid in the stomach or prokinetics that help the lower esophageal sphincter to work better.
As always, WIC works in tandem with other health professionals to see that each infant and child we serve is offered the best nutrition available. When it comes to a diagnosis of acid reflux in an infant, we can receive a prescription from the clinician to get them the formula that works best for them if it is something outside our usual Gerber Good Start Gentle, Soothe, or Soy products that do not require a prescription. In a child with the diagnosis of reflux we help to educate the parents on food choices that minimize exacerbations of the disease.
For more information about WIC, please call 740-992-0392 Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m.
Jenna Petry, RN, is a WIC Certifying Health Professional at the Meigs County Health Department.