Digestive and Gastrointestinal Conditions

Gastroesophageal Reflux

What is gastroesophageal reflux?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when food and stomach acid back up into the esophagus, the tube that goes from the mouth to the stomach. Normally, a complex mechanism made up of three parts prevents reflux. These three parts are:

  • The muscle around the esophagus as it enters the belly (abdomen)
  • The part of the esophagus located in the abdomen before it enters the stomach
  • The angle at which the esophagus enters the stomach.

In simple terms, some people describe these elements as a valve between the stomach and esophagus, but no specific valve really exists.

Stomach acid can hurt the esophagus and cause a burning feeling or pain. This may make your baby fussy or unwilling to eat much. Reflux can also lead to other problems, such as pneumonia, breathing problems and difficulty gaining weight.

Gastroesophageal Reflux in Children

Gastroesophageal reflux is common in babies. About half of them have it. Most outgrow it by the time they are 6 months to 1 year old.

Gastroesophageal Reflux at Seattle Children's

We treat many children with gastroesophageal reflux. Most of these children do not need surgery. In many cases, we work closely with doctors who are experts in the digestive system (gastroenterology) or lungs (pulmonary) to help make the decision about whether an operation will benefit your child.

Before we recommend surgery, we do a thorough check of your child's health. We talk with you to determine whether steps other than surgery may help your child. An important part of our service is our work with children and families to get good results without surgery whenever possible.

Because we believe that many children can be well taken care of without surgery, we tend to do fewer of these operations than other children's health centers. If your child does need surgery, however, our doctors have extensive experience.

Our surgeons have performed hundreds of the operations children need to correct reflux. They usually do 50 to 75 of these operations each year. Our surgeons can recommend whether a laparoscopic surgery, or minimally invasive, operation is best for your child or whether an open operation with a larger incision may be a better choice. Most of the time our surgeons correct gastroesophageal reflux with laparoscopic surgery.

When you come to Seattle Children's, you have a team of people to care for your child before, during and after surgery. Along with your child's surgeon, you are connected with nurses, dietitians, child life specialists and others. We work together to meet all of your child's health needs and help your family through this experience.

Since 1907, Seattle Children's has been treating children only. Our team members are trained in their fields and also in meeting the unique needs of children. For example, the doctors who give your child anesthesia are board certified in pediatric anesthesiology. This means they have extra years of training in how to take care of kids. Our child life specialists know how to help children understand their illnesses and treatments in ways that make sense for their age. Our expertise in pediatrics truly makes a difference for our patients and families.