Did you know that gastro-esophageal reflux disease can present as a behaviour disturbance? Misconstrued as naughty.
To explain, I’d like to tell you about a boy called Andrew. He first came to see me in my clinic when he was just 3 months old: he was screaming, distressed, regurgitating, vomiting, and waking hourly during the night, crying. He had classic gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GORD, or GERD) which was successfully treated with acid suppression medication [omeprazole]. He responded very well to this and was off all medication by a year of age.
But when I next saw him at 2 years old he had a new story. He had been increasingly irritable and cranky during the day, and his mother said that he looked uncomfortable after eating. He had began waking up again at night, quite distressed. So, they sought medical help, and his medical practitioner said that he was “just being naughty” and implied that his parents were mismanaging him. Yes, it is easy to blame the parents, or blame the child.
Poor Andrew! I realised that he had his heartburn (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) back again. So I put him back onto the omeprazole medication (10 mg a day). His mother said “this has made such a big difference, it seems as though he has had a personality change. He is a lot more happy and easy.” Yes, gastric reflux and bad behaviour are linked.
At his last clinic visit, his parents told me that they had tried to take him off the medication again, but with a bad outcome: “He has gone back to his cranky difficult ways. His behaviour has deteriorated terribly. Taking taking him off the medication has not gone at all well.”
So Andrew is now back on acid suppression treatment with excellent results: he is happy bright self again. Yes, gastro-esophageal reflux disease can present with behavior disturbance. It is life changing when this is recognized and treated.
By Rodney Ford