Incredible Review of GERD, BRUE, Aspiration, and Gastroparesis

Recently, Rachel Rosen gave a terrific review of reflux and reflux-related entities as part of our annual William (Billy) Meyers lectureship.  This lecture information would be helpful for every pediatric gastroenterologist as well as every pediatrician, pediatric ENT, pediatric pulmonologist, pediatric SLP and lactation specialist.  It puts to rest many obsolete ideas about reflux and its management. Some of her points have been covered by this blog previously (see links below) and by her bowel sounds podcast (see link below).   Some errors of omission and transcription may have occurred as I took notes during this lecture. 

Main points:


  1. Using the label “GERD” increases the likelihood that an infant will be prescribed acid blockers; this phenomenon is noted as well with SLP and lactation specialist team members.  Everyone needs to be careful about ascribing infant symptoms to “reflux disease”
  2. AR formulas need acid to increase their viscosity (don’t use PPIs in infants taking AR formulas). Also, AR formula viscosity is hindered when mixed with breastmilk (don’t mix with breastmilk)
  3. Most infants with reflux have nonacid reflux.  PPIs do not help nonacid reflux
  4. PPIs are associated with increased aspiration and infection risks.  Acid suppression has been associated with increased risk of allergic diseases
  5. Rumination can look a lot like reflux on pH probe studies
  6. Reflux hypersensitivity, and functional heartburn can result in similar symptoms as reflux (can be distinguished with pH testing)
  7. Pepsin can increase lung inflammation and can be increased by PPI use
  8. Red airway appearance is NOT indicative of reflux (poor specificity, poor sensitivity)
  9. If having symptoms with transpyloric feedings, this indicates that the symptoms are NOT due to reflux; transpyloritc feedings have similar efficacy as a fundoplication
  10. Avoid fundoplication.  It does not result in fewer hospitalizations or improve pulmonary outcomes.  It can result in a number of complications
  11. Consider genotyping for CYP2C19 pharmacogenetics in patients receiving chronic PPI.  Those with rapid metabolism could benefit from higher doses.  Those with slow metabolism could benefit from lower doses.  Higher doses of PPIs increase risk for infections
  12. Bolus feedings result in fewer problems than continuous feedings

Delayed Gastric Emptying (Gastroparesis)

  1. Delayed GE is associated with increased lung bile acids.  This is important in lung transplant recipients and increased lung bile acids is seen more commonly in those with frequent admissions for respiratory issues
  2. In Dr. Rosen’s experience, prucalopride is currently the most useful promotility agent in documented gastroparesis


  1.  Infants with BRUE need to be tested for aspiration, not prescribed PPIs.
  2.  VSS (aka OPMS) has the highest yield of any test in infants with BRUE (~72% abnormal testing in one study). 
  3. Silent aspiration is common -don’t rely on SLP bedside assessment.
  4. Even with this diagnosis, many infants are still prescribed PPIs which increase the risk of complications (more hospitalizations, more infections, possible increase in allergies)


  1. There are a number of potential etiologies, though most infants have aspiration due to neurological reasons (most transitory and improved by 7 months of age)
  2. In Boston, less than 5% with aspiration on VSS required GT placement
  3. Thickeners can be very helpful.  Practitioners need to know the differences (don’t use Simply Thick in 1st year of life due to NEC risk)

Chronic Cough:

  1. ~10% of kids with chronic cough have eosinophilic esophagitis (who have seen GI in Boston)

Related blog posts:

Cacti at Tucson Botanical Gardens

Last Year’s Most Popular Posts

I want to thank the many people who have helped me with this blog –now with 2180 posts over more than 6 years.  This includes my wife, my colleagues at GICareforKids, and colleagues from across the country who have provided critical feedback as well as useful publications to review.  I hope this blog continues to be a useful resource.

Here are the top dozen most popular blog posts from 2017:


Will This Change ALTE-GERD Practice?

This blog has highlighted several publications which have shown the lack of benefit and potential harm of pharmaceutical agents for gastroesophageal reflux “disease” (GERD) in infancy (see links below). However, in current practice, proton pump inhibitors and histamine receptor antagonists are used frequently.  Now, another influential study (J Pediatr 2014; 165: 250-5) has shown the lack of GERD as a causal mechanism in acute life-threatening events (ALTEs) and demonstrated other pathophysiologic mechanisms. However, changing physicians’ practice in this regard may prove to be as difficult as avoiding overprescribing antibiotics, or convincing reluctant parents to vaccinate their children.

So what did this study show?

This study of 20 infants (10 with proven ALTE and 10 healthy controls) had pharyngoesophageal manometry.  Key findings:

  • Infants with ALTE (vs controls) had delays in restoring aerodigestive normalcy (P=.03).  This was indicated by more frequent and prolonged spontaneous respiratory events (SREs)
  • Infants with ALTE had a lower magnitude of protective upper esophageal sphincter contractile reflexes (P=.01)
  • Infants with ALTE had swallowing as the most frequent esophageal event associated with SREs (84%), a higher proportion of failed esophageal propagation (10% vs 0%, P=.02), an more frequent mixed apnea mechanisms (P=<.01) along with gasping breaths (P=.04)

The associated editorial (pg 225-26) explains some of the limitations of the study, including the fact that the patients had a mean gestational age of 28 weeks.

The authors conclusion: “In infants with ALTE, prolonged SREs are associated with ineffective esophageal motility ,,,suggestive of dysfunctional regulation of swallow-respiratory junction interactions.  Hence, treatment should not target gastroesophageal reflux, but rather the proximal aerodigestive tract.”

Take-home message: (from the editorial): “Far too many low birth weight (and term) infants are being unnecessarily treated with a variety of antireflux medications that have serious side effects and few, if any, demonstrable benefits.”

Related blog posts:

What to do with ALTEs?

While apparent life-threatening events (ALTEs) in infants are quite disturbing, the best management for these events is far from clear. A recent systematic review of ALTEs in infants was undertaken and included studies from 1970-2011 (J Pediatr 2013; 163: 94-9). The authors ultimately identified 37 relevant studies: 18 prospective observational studies and 19 retrospective observational studies.


  • None of the 37 studies yielded “a high level of evidence for diagnostic or prognostic investigations.”
  • Risk factors for ALTE: prematurity, previous ALTEs, and suspected child maltreatment.
  • Routine screening for gastroesophageal reflux, meningitis, bacteremia, and seizures are “highly unlikely to be helpful in patients who are well-appearing and have no other findings suggestive of a diagnosis.”
  • Testing for GERD “is unnecessary in children with ALTEs.”  “A positive test does not necessarily inform management because causation cannot be established.”  Patients with recurrent ALTEs “may benefit from pH monitoring in combination with symptom recording.

Additional references:

NASPGHAN Consensus guidelines on GERD (2009)

Link: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in the Pediatric  – NASPGHAN.o

  • In premature infants, a relationship between GER (i.e. reflux) and pathologic apnea and/or bradycardia has not been established.Despite a lack of convincing evidence, if pathological apnea occurs in the face of pre- existing reflux, then the following two statements are the most common features:
  • Although reflux causes physiologic apnea, it causes pathologic apneic episodes in only a very small number of newborns and infants.
  • When reflux causes pathological apnea, the infant is more likely to be awake and the apnea is more likely to be obstructive in nature.
  • A diagnosis of an acute life-threatening event (ALTE) warrants consideration of causes other than GER (i.e. reflux).Reflux of gastric acid seems to be related to ALTEs (episodes of combinations of apnea, color change, change in muscle tone, choking, and gagging) in < 5 % of infants with ALTE. 
  • -J Pediatr 2009; 155: 516. Bradycardia not improved in preemies treated for GER. n=18. Editorial 464 urges not using GER Rx in neonates –outside clinical trials.
  • -J Pediatr 2009; 154: 374. Apnea associated with reduction in LES tone in premature infants; therefore, GER may be secondary to apnea rather than the reverse. Small study -12 apneic event in 7 infants.
  • -J Pediatr 2008; 152: 365. Compared risk factors with SIDS. One of 153 (0.6%) with ALTE died.
  • -Pediatrics 2005; 116: 1059 & 1217 (editorial). Apnea in preemies is unrelated to GER.
  • -Pediatrics 2004; 113: e128-132. Apnea is unrelated to GER in most preemies; airway problems due to GERD is hard to establish.
  • -J Pediatr 2000; 137: 321 & 298. Poor temporal association between GER & apnea in ALTE patients.
  • -J Pediatr 2001; 138: 355. Metoclopropramide/cisapride do not help apnea in preemies with GER
  • -Pediatrics 2002; 109: 8-11. GER does not cause apnea of prematurity.