Burning Inside the Burping Baby

Esophagitis risk increases in premature and small babies

December 14, 2012 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Babies need a hand burping, especially the itty bitty ones. Too much of that gas, however, can be sign of more serious problems going on in their tummies.

Infants that were born prematurely or smaller than normal are at an increased risk of having esophagitis, according to recently published study.

This may leave them more at risk for developing cancer in their esophagus later on, researchers said.

"Keep an eye on your baby's burps."

In esophagitis, the tube connecting the mouth and stomach becomes irritated and inflamed. It is often caused by acid reflux, which babies can have.

Researchers, led by Lina Forssell, MD, of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, looked at the links between developing esophagitis early in life and babies who were born preterm or small for their age.

They drew information from over 7,000 patients with esophagitis from two of Sweden's registries on birth and patient data between 1973 and 2007.

The birth registry collects information on early pregnancies, medical conditions and mothers' heights, as well as babies' gestational age, gender and weight.

Researchers gathered babies' weight and age. They excluded twins, or patients with incorrectly reported health information.

As babies' weight decreased, their risk for developing esophagitis increased, researchers found. For babies born small for their age or prematurely, their odds of developing esophagitis increased almost one and a half times and three-fold respectively compared to normal-sized babies born after the full pregnancy term.

Those who were diagnosed with esophagitis between the time they were born and 9 years of age were about twice as likely to have been small for their size at birth. In addition, they were seven times as likely to have been born prematurely.

Looking at gender, boys and girls with the problem were almost 10 and three times as likely, respectively, to be born prematurely. The odds of being small at birth was two and a half times greater for girls and one and a half times for boys, among those with the esophagus problem compared to those without.

Patients who were diagnosed at age 20 or younger was linked to being small at birth, but not for being born early.

"Having found an increased risk of esophagitis among those born preterm, it is important that we try to quantify their subsequent risk of developing esophageal cancer," Dr. Forssell said in a press release.

The authors note they were not able to track the mothers' smoking habits while pregnant as well as their body mass indexes and home life. They also relied on reports of diagnosed esophagitis rather than diagnosing the participants themselves using endoscopy.

Further research is needed to find any ties between those born with acid reflux early in life and their risk for cancer in the esophagus.

The study was published in the December issue of the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology by the American Gastroenterological Association. The authors did not report any conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
December 13, 2012
Last Updated:
April 11, 2013