Diagnosis and treatment of respiratory symptoms of initially unsuspected gastroesophageal reflux in infants

M. Krishnamoorthy, A. Mintz, T. Liem, H. Applebaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) in infants is most commonly thought of as repeated excessive vomiting and failure to thrive, with most infants responding favorably to medical therapy. However, GER may also manifest exclusively with a variety of respiratory symptoms that, if not detected and treated early, may lead to life-threatening complications. During the period of 1987 to 1992, 39 neonates and infants underwent Nissen fundoplication for the treatment of respiratory symptoms attributed to GER. Symptoms included apnea and bradycardia (64%), pneumonia (31%), cyanosis (28%), cough (18%), and stridor (15%). Most patients were ascribed at least one incorrect diagnosis to explain respiratory symptoms. These include apnea of prematurity (38%), bronchopulmonary dysplasia (31%), asthma (8%), and subglottic stenosis (8%). All patients underwent a variety of investigations and medical treatments without noticeable clinical improvement. These included bronchoscopy, esophagoscopy, and polysomnograms. Treatment such as antibiotics, theophylline, bronchodilators, steroids, and oxygen were directed at presumed primary respiratory disease. On the other hand, H2 blockers, metoclopramide, positioning, and thickened feeds were prescribed to treat GER without objective evidence of disease. Ultimately, GER was demonstrated by upper gastrointestinal series in 64%, pH probe in 61%, and both studies in 38%. All patients underwent Nissen fundoplication after failed attempts at medical therapy. A total of 95% of patients had resolution or substantial improvement of respiratory symptoms postoperatively. Preoperative hospitalization averaged 37.0 days, and postoperative stay averaged only 14.2 days. We present a series of patients with GER, all of whom presented with respiratory symptoms. An early suspicion of GER and prompt work-up can be highly cost-effective, thereby avoiding erroneous diagnoses and more invasive investigations, and reducing length of hospitalization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)783-785
Number of pages3
JournalAmerican Surgeon
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1994
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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