Decisions in diagnosing and managing chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease in children.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) presents in different ways in children, most commonly with vomiting, or with esophageal symptoms such as regurgitation, heartburn, or dysphagia. Extraesophageal symptoms and signs also frequently occur. Less well recognized is that abdominal pain is a relatively common mode of presentation. Although abdominal pain is common in school-aged children, GERD and other acid-related disorders such as peptic ulcer disease are relatively uncommon causes of such. A careful history will usually determine whether an acid-related disorder is in the differential diagnosis of abdominal pain. Early detection and treatment of GERD in children may prevent, attenuate, or heal complications such as failure to thrive or feeding refusal as well as pulmonary, ear-nose-and-throat disorders, erosive esophagitis, and peptic stricture. In children with persistent or severe symptoms and/or complications of GERD such as erosive esophagitis, the major treatment options are pharmacologic management with acid-suppressing medication, specifically proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), or antireflux surgery. For many patients, PPI treatment offers advantages over surgery. When given in adequate doses, PPIs can safely effect relief of GERD symptoms and healing of esophagitis in children. Antireflux surgery may work well in selected patients, but it carries significant risk of morbidity, including high failure rates, even in the short term. Some postoperative studies report that more than 60% of patients are back on medical treatment with proton pump inhibitors for recurrence of GERD symptoms, and a similar percentage have new symptoms that were not present before surgery. Death is uncommon but does occur and is an unacceptable risk in an otherwise healthy, low-risk individual. Laparoscopic surgery may have some disadvantages compared with open surgery, including a higher rate of redo operations. Studies show that many children undergo surgery for unclear indications, often with few preoperative diagnostic studies. The availability of highly effective medical therapy, together with more careful selection of patients for surgery, may result in better patient outcomes, with much lower operative rates.
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