Gastro-esophageal reflux (GER) is a common phenomenon, characterized by the regurgitation of the gastric contents into the esophagus. Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the term applied when GER is associated with sequelae or faltering growth.
The main aims of treatment are to alleviate symptoms, promote normal growth, and prevent complications. Medical treatments for children include (i) altering the viscosity of the feeds with alginates; (ii) altering the gastric pH with antacids, histamine H2 receptor antagonists, and proton pump inhibitors; and (iii) altering the motility of the gut with prokinetics, such as metoclopramide and domperidone.
Our aim was to systematically review the evidence base for the medical treatment of gastro-oesophageal reflux in children. We searched PubMed, AdisOnline, MEDLINE, and EMBASE, and then manually searched reviews from the past 5 years using the key words ‘gastro-esophageal’ (or ‘gastroesophageal’), ‘reflux’, ‘esophagitis’, and ‘child$’ (or ‘infant’) and ‘drug$’ or ‘therapy’. Articles included were in English and had an abstract. We used the levels of evidence adopted by the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine in Oxford to assess the studies for all reported outcomes that were meaningful to clinicians making decisions about treatment. This included the impact of clinical symptoms, pH study profile, and esophageal appearance at endoscopy.
Five hundred and eight articles were reviewed, of which 56 papers were original, relevant clinical trials. These were assessed further. Many of the studies considered had significant methodological flaws, although based on available evidence the following statements can be made. For infant GERD, ranitidine and omeprazole and probably lansoprazole are safe and effective medications, which promote symptomatic relief, and endoscopic and histological healing of esophagitis. Gaviscon® Infant sachets are safe and can improve symptoms of reflux. There is less evidence to support the use of domperidone or metoclopramide. More evidence is needed before other anti-reflux medications can be recommended. For older children, acid suppression is the mainstay of treatment. The largest evidence base supports the early use of H2 receptor antagonists or proton pump inhibitors.