Friday, December 28

Are Too Many Babies Taking Antireflux Medications?

Spitting up is a common, albeit messy, part of being a baby. But some little ones have a harder time keeping their early diets down than others. So, infants these days are often prescribed medications to help keep their spit-ups — and the discomfort that can come with them — at bay. But now a new study is questioning whether many of the babies taking these drugs really need them.

Focusing on 44 infants with ongoing spitting up or vomiting problems, researchers used a test to measure the reflux (or regurgitation) of acid from the stomach into the esophagus. What they found: The vast majority of the babies couldn't technically be diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition that's different from regular old reflux. Reflux is very common in infants, but it usually doesn't cause any health problems and stops before a baby's first birthday. Doctors diagnose GERD when a child's reflux is causing complications, like irritation of the esophagus due to refluxed stomach acid, poor weight gain, or breathing problems due to spit up spilling over into the child's lungs.

Although almost all of the 44 babies tested were on antireflux medications (42, in fact), only 8% of them could be considered to have GERD. And when the babies who didn't appear to have the condition after all were taken off the medications, the reflux symptoms in most of the babies improved or didn't get any worse.

So, why the large number of babies getting antireflux medications? The researchers say the high number of prescriptions could be because:

  • Primary care doctors don't have a simple way to distinguish simple reflux from GERD, so they may prescribe the medication to see if it helps.
  • Parents may become anxious and worried about their baby's ongoing problems and request a prescription. (The researchers note, though, that parents' reports of vomiting and spitting up are often highly exaggerated — often as much as five to six times more than the amount the baby is actually throwing up.)

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