Pharmacological treatment of children with gastro-oesophageal reflux

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Nov 24;2014(11):CD008550. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008550.pub2.


Background: Gastro-oesophageal reflux (GOR) is a common disorder, characterised by regurgitation of gastric contents into the oesophagus. GOR is a very common presentation in infancy in both primary and secondary care settings. GOR can affect approximately 50% of infants younger than three months old (Nelson 1997). The natural history of GOR in infancy is generally that of a functional, self-limiting condition that improves with age; < 5% of children with vomiting or regurgitation continue to have symptoms after infancy (Martin 2002). Older children and children with co-existing medical conditions can have a more protracted course. The definition of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and its precise distinction from GOR are debated, but consensus guidelines from the North American Society of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (NASPGHAN-ESPGHAN guidelines 2009) define GORD as 'troublesome symptoms or complications of GOR.'

Objectives: This Cochrane review aims to provide a robust analysis of currently available pharmacological interventions used to treat children with GOR by assessing all outcomes indicating benefit or harm.

Search methods: We sought to identify relevant published trials by searching the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (2014, Issue 5), MEDLINE and EMBASE (1966 to 2014), the Centralised Information Service for Complementary Medicine (CISCOM), the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) Science Citation Index (on BIDS-UK General Science Index) and the ISI Web of Science. We also searched for ongoing trials in the metaRegister of Controlled Trials (mRCT) ( lists from trials selected by electronic searching were handsearched for relevant paediatric studies on medical treatment of children with gastro-oesophageal reflux, as were published abstracts from conference proceedings (published in Gut and Gastroenterology) and reviews published over the past five years.No language restrictions were applied.

Selection criteria: Abstracts were reviewed by two review authors, and relevant RCTs on study participants (birth to 16 years) with GOR receiving a pharmacological treatment were selected. Subgroup analysis was considered for children up to 12 months of age, and for children 12 months to 16 years of age, and for those with neurological impairment.

Data collection and analysis: Trials were critically appraised and data collected by two review authors. Risk of bias was assessed. Meta-analysis data were independently extracted by two review authors, and suitable outcome data were analysed using RevMan.

Main results: A total of 24 studies (1201 participants) contributed data to the review. The review authors had several concerns regarding the studies. Pharmaceutical company support for manuscript preparation was a common feature; also, because common endpoints were lacking, study populations were heterogenous and variations in study design were noted, individual drug meta-analysis was not possible.Moderate-quality evidence from individual studies suggests that proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can reduce GOR symptoms in children with confirmed erosive oesophagitis. It was not possible to demonstrate statistical superiority of one PPI agent over another.Some evidence indicates that H₂antagonists are effective in treating children with GORD. Methodological differences precluded performance of meta-analysis on individual agents or on these agents as a class, in comparison with placebo or head-to-head versus PPIs, and additional studies are required.RCT evidence is insufficient to permit assessment of the efficacy of prokinetics. Given the diversity of study designs and the heterogeneity of outcomes, it was not possible to perform a meta-analysis of the efficacy of domperidone.In younger children, the largest RCT of 80 children (one to 18 months of age) with GOR showed no evidence of improvement in symptoms and 24-hour pH probe, but improvement in symptoms and reflux index was noted in a subgroup treated with domperidone and co-magaldrox(Maalox(®) ). In another RCT of 17 children, after eight weeks of therapy. 33% of participants treated with domperidone noted an improvement in symptoms (P value was not significant). In neonates, the evidence is even weaker; one RCT of 26 neonates treated with domperidone over 24 hours showed that although reflux frequency was significantly increased, reflux duration was significantly improved.Diversity of RCT evidence was found regarding efficacy of compound alginate preparations(Gaviscon Infant(®) ) in infants, although as a result of these studies, Gaviscon Infant(®) was changed to become aluminium-free and has been assessed in its current form in only two studies since 1999. Given the diversity of study designs and the heterogeneity of outcomes, as well as the evolution in formulation, it was not possible to perform a meta-analysis on the efficacy of Gaviscon Infant(®) . Moderate evidence indicates that Gaviscon Infant(®) improves symptoms in infants, including those with functional reflux; the largest study of the current formulation showed improvement in symptom control but was limited by length of follow-up.No serious side effects were reported.No RCTs on pharmacological treatments for children with neurodisability were identified.

Authors' conclusions: Moderate evidence was found to support the use of PPIs, along with some evidence to support the use of H₂ antagonists in older children with GORD, based on improvement in symptom scores, pH indices and endoscopic/histological appearances. However, lack of independent placebo-controlled and head-to-head trials makes conclusions as to relative efficacy difficult to determine. Further RCTs are recommended. No robust RCT evidence is available to support the use of domperidone, and further studies on prokinetics are recommended, including assessments of erythromycin.Pharmacological treatment of infants with reflux symptoms is problematic, as many infants have GOR, and little correlation has been noted between reported symptoms and endoscopic and pH findings. Better evidence has been found to support the use of PPIs in infants with GORD, but heterogeneity in outcomes and in study design impairs interpretation of placebo-controlled data regarding efficacy. Some evidence is available to support the use of Gaviscon Infant(®) , but further studies with longer follow-up times are recommended. Studies of omeprazole and lansoprazole in infants with functional GOR have demonstrated variable benefit, probably because of differences in inclusion criteria.No robust RCT evidence has been found regarding treatment of preterm babies with GOR/GORD or children with neurodisabilities. Initiation of RCTs with common endpoints is recommended, given the frequency of treatment and the use of multiple antireflux agents in these children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Alginates / therapeutic use
  • Aluminum Hydroxide / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Domperidone / therapeutic use
  • Drug Combinations
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / drug therapy*
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Histamine H2 Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Magnesium Hydroxide / therapeutic use
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Silicic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Sodium Bicarbonate / therapeutic use


  • Alginates
  • Drug Combinations
  • Gastrointestinal Agents
  • Histamine H2 Antagonists
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors
  • Silicic Acid
  • aluminum hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide, drug combination
  • Domperidone
  • Aluminum Hydroxide
  • alginate, aluminium hydroxide, magnesium trisilicate, sodium bicarbonate drug combination
  • Sodium Bicarbonate
  • Magnesium Hydroxide