Infants receive GERD medication more often than necessary, study finds

Study by Michigan, Missouri researchers published online in Pediatrics

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Symptoms associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease are frequently overtreated in infants, according to a new study by researchers in Michigan and Missouri.

The study, published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics, found that doctors often diagnose such common symptoms in infants as crying and spitting up as disease, and frequent diagnoses of GERD can lead to overuse of medications to treat it, said the researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Missouri.

"As doctors, we need to appreciate that the words we use when talking with patients and parents have power — the power to make a normal process seem like a disease," University of Michigan professor of pediatrics Beth Tarini said. "As pediatricians, our job is to make sick children healthy, not to make healthy children sick."

The researchers surveyed parents at a pediatric clinic in Michigan about how they would respond in a hypothetical scenario: An infant is crying and spitting up but appears otherwise healthy, and the doctor either gives a diagnosis of GERD or gives none. Half the parents also were told that existing medications are probably ineffective, while the rest are not given information about medication effectiveness.

The researchers found that parents who received a GERD diagnosis were interested in giving their infants medication, even when told the medications were ineffective. Those not given a disease label only expressed interest in prescriptions when the doctor did not discuss whether or not the medication was effective.

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