heartburn

What to do if your child complains of heartburn

Did you know that one of the top reasons children complain about chest pain is because they actually have heartburn? I think a lot of people believe that adults are the only ones who get it, but I have been seeing more and more children complain about heartburn, and there are some common reasons why. Heartburn often creates an uncomfortable burning feeling behind the breastbone. It has nothing to do with your heart, but everything to do with your stomach and esophagus.

These days there are plenty of children who like to eat spicy foods. From hot sauce to salsa to ‘hot chips’ and ‘hot popcorn’, these types of foods are included in the diets of many of the children that I see who complain of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) or heartburn. There are plenty of other items however that I think parents might be surprised to realize that can trigger it.

These include:

  • Fried food like chicken nuggets, french fries
  • Junk food like doughnuts
  • Pop, coffee, tea and caffeinated energy drinks
  • Acidic foods like orange juice and tomato sauce
  • Peppermint and gum
  • Ibuprofen

Symptoms of GERD or heartburn can often include chest pain, stomachaches, nausea, hoarseness or scratchy throat, sour burps, night cough, etc. These can be brought on by fatty foods, stress, eating large meals and even eating and lying down right after the meal.

In kids, prevention is much better than treatment. So reduce how often your children have the trigger foods above. Fruits and veggies like spinach and peaches go a long way toward balancing out the acids so get in at least 1-2 per meal. Try to get your child to eat several smaller meals throughout the day and don’t allow him/her to skip meals. Also, more exercise, drinking more water and reducing any stress are good tactics to stop the triggers of heartburn.

There are many medications that can help your children. Acid blockers and reducers will quell most symptoms that come up. If this is the first time your child has complained about these kinds of symptoms, I would check with your pediatrician before giving your children any over the counter medicines that treat heartburn. You will want to make sure more serious problems can be ruled out. It will be helpful if you keep a list of what foods they have eaten and when the symptoms have appeared. It will also be helpful if you give your doctor an example of how meals go at your house. Are you commonly going through drive-thru’s? This insight will help your doctor determine what else to recommend in terms of lifestyle changes.

Overall, think prevention, listen to the body’s signals, and if a trigger food is making your child have heartburn, stop buying it. Use medication temporarily as you work with your doctor to make changes to the diet to help resolve heartburn in your child for good.

Wendy Willis, MD
Wendy K. Anderson, MD, is a member of the Section of Ambulatory Pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

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