Gastroesophageal reflux (GER), defined as the passage of gastric contents into the esophagus, is a normal physiologic process occurring several times per day in healthy infants, children, and adults. The majority of GER episodes occur in the postprandial period, last in <3 min, and cause few or no symptoms. Conversely, when the reflux of gastric contents into the esophagus causes troublesome symptoms and/or complications, we talk about “gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).” Distinguishing physiologic GER from GERD may often be tricky for clinicians, especially in infants. The typical presentation of GERD includes the following symptoms: recurrent regurgitation, vomiting, weight loss or poor weight gain, excessive crying and irritability in infants, heartburn or chest pain, ruminative behavior, hematemesis, and dysphagia. Besides these esophageal symptoms, there is a set of extra-esophageal symptoms, mainly respiratory, which may occur along with typical symptoms or may represent the only clinical picture of GERD: odynophagia, wheezing, stridor, cough, hoarseness, dental erosions, and apnea/apparent life-threatening events (ALTEs). While infantile GER tends to resolve spontaneously and does not deserve pharmacological treatment, GERD management includes lifestyle changes, pharmacologic therapy, and surgery. Therefore, a proper diagnosis of these two conditions, besides other possible conditions mimicking reflux, is crucial in order to target the treatment, avoiding the overuse of antacid drugs that currently represents a major source of concern.
Part of the book: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease