Diagnosis and management of gastro-oesophageal reflux in preterm infants in neonatal intensive care units

Acta Paediatr. 2004 Jan;93(1):88-93.


Aim: There is relatively little published information regarding gastro-oesophageal reflux (GOR) in preterm infants, therefore the aim of this study was to elucidate the incidence of GOR and management regimes employed for this condition in major neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).

Methods: A standard questionnaire was sent to consultants in 77 level II (or secondary) and III (or tertiary) NICUs.

Results: Seventy-eight percent of consultants responded. Of babies born in these units, 40% were less than 34 wk gestational age and the estimated incidence of GOR in this group was 22%. GOR was diagnosed on a clinical basis alone in 42% of units, 8% used clinical features and/or investigations, and 50% used clinical features plus investigations and/or therapeutic trials. Intra-oesophageal pH monitoring was available in 93% of units but used regularly in only 32% of suspected cases. Common treatment strategies for diagnosed GOR included non-drug options--body positioning (98%) and placement on a slope (96%); and drugs--H2-receptor antagonists (100%), feed thickeners (98%), antacids (96%), prokinetic agents (79%), proton-pump inhibitors (65%) and dopamine-receptor antagonists (53%). However, the frequency with which all of these treatments were used varied widely between units. Surgery was required in only 1% of cases.

Conclusions: GOR is perceived to be a common condition in preterm infants but the lack of published evidence relating to the management of GOR in preterm infants is reflected in the wide variation in diagnostic and treatment strategies used in major NICUs. It is clear that randomized, controlled trials to evaluate appropriate and effective treatments are needed.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Antacids / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / diagnosis*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / physiopathology
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / therapy
  • Gestational Age
  • Histamine H2 Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Infant Food
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Male
  • Posture
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology


  • Antacids
  • Histamine H2 Antagonists