Acid Reflux in Teens
As your child enters their teenage years, they’ll go through a number of physical and emotional changes. Their skin may break out, they’ll experience a growth spurt and their appetites will increase to keep up with their metabolic needs. For some, these physical changes can mean acid reflux in teens. Learn what foods may trigger heartburn in teens and lifestyle changes that can help them find relief.
What Causes Heartburn in Teens?
Heartburn and acid reflux aren’t just problem for adults. One in four teenagers has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).1 Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus.2 When you eat, swallowed food is allowed into the stomach thanks to the relaxing of a band of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter.2 This muscle then tightens again to keep the swallowed food and any stomach acid inside the stomach, but if it’s not working as it should, stomach acid can flow back up into the esophagus and cause heartburn.2
Heartburn is often a symptom of GERD, and some teens may taste food or stomach acid at the back of their mouths.3 Other symptoms may include bad breath, nausea, breathing problems and the wearing away of teeth.3
One theory as to why more teens are being diagnosed with GERD or experiencing heartburn is that today’s teens are not receiving adequate physical activity and may have poor dietary habits.1 Overweight teens may develop GERD due to increased pressure on their abdomens and a diet of greasy, fatty foods may trigger heartburn.1,3
Is Your Teen’s Diet Triggering Acid Reflux?
Your teenager may have grown several inches, seemingly overnight, and your grocery bill may have doubled as a result. However, when left to their own devices, not all teens reach for a healthy diet, and many foods that are favored by teenagers are known heartburn triggers: fried foods, French fries, burgers, and pizza.1
Some other foods that cause heartburn and may contribute to your child’s discomfort may include:4
- Citrus products – including orange juice
- Carbonated beverages, like soda
- Dairy products
- Foods that are fried, overly fatty or spicy
While many teens are not affected by acid reflux, a plate of spicy, fried chicken wings or a rich chocolate milkshake can lead to some pretty severe abdominal distress. Additionally, foods that are commonly served in middle and high school cafeterias to appeal to teens may be heartburn triggers. Your teen should take some time examining their diet and pinpointing what foods were eaten before heartburn struck in order to determine triggers.
Additionally, teens that are prone to snacking before bed may experience more heartburn simply because lying flat on a full stomach can allow stomach acid to enter the esophagus.1,4
Helping Your Teen Manage Their Heartburn
Treatment for teens who have GERD or who frequently experience acid reflux is similar and may require a few lifestyle changes:1
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals in order to keep from feeling overly full
- Identify and limit trigger foods that cause heartburn
- Eat the last meal of the day at least three hours before bedtime so food can be fully digested
- Get moderate exercise
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
However, these lifestyle changes may be difficult for your teen to achieve, especially since most teens tend to stay up late and may snack before bed.1 Committing to a diet change may also be a challenge due to not wanting to feel like an outsider in a group that is eating trigger foods like tacos and pizza, especially since eating is such a social activity. Convincing your teen to adopt an earlier bedtime may also be difficult given the amount of time spent on extracurricular activities, the internet and homework.1
However, teenagers with acid reflux and GERD may notice that their symptoms improve if they stick to a regimen of dietary changes and increased sleep.1
Another way for teens to manage their heartburn symptoms is to take TUMS Chewy Bites when acid reflux occurs and they need fast-acting relief (use as directed). If you can’t stop your teen from eating cold pizza at 1 a.m., you can at least give them TUMS for heartburn and indigestion.
- An Adult Disease That More Teens Are Getting. MemorialCare. https://www.memorialcare.org/blog/adult-disease-more-teens-are-getting. Accessed 10/11/22.
- Heartburn. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/symptoms-causes/syc-20373223. Accessed 10/11/22.
- Reflux in Children. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/refluxinchildren.html. Accessed 10/11/22.
- GERD in Children and Adolescents. North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition. https://naspghan.org/files/documents/pdfs/medical-resources/gerd/Adolescents%20and%20GERD_FlyerFormat.pdf. Accessed 10/11/22.