Misdiagnosing infant acid reflux, or a case of "Inattentional Blindness?"
On December 13th, The Baltimore Sun published an article called, "Reflux among babies often a misdiagnosis." The article's purpose was to inform readers that acid reflux is often over treated in infants and children. Dr. Vikram Khoshoo, a pediatric gastroenterologist at West Jefferson Medical Center in New Orleans, summed up the article with this quote: "It's a laundry issue. You've got to do more clothes. It's truly not a medical issue."
Reader and patient advocate beware. Dr. Khoshoo did just publish a study in last month's issue of Pediatrics. This article was based on his study of just 44 infants. Khoshoo and colleagues excluded from their study any infant who was born preterm, had respiratory difficulties, or who had been exposed to cigarette smoke - all conditions highly correlated with acid reflux disease. Also in his study, Khoshoo only considered a pH below four as a marker for acid reflux. Studies abound that demonstrate pH numbers greater than four can cause extreme discomfort and damage to the upper portion of the esophagus.
There is a phenomenon known as inattentional blindness, which describes how things can actually be there, but we do not see them because we are not looking for them, or our attention is in a different direction. One of the most well known studies demonstrating inattentional blindness was conducted by a researcher at Harvard University. In this study, subjects were asked to watch a short video, in which two groups of people passed a basketball back and forth. The subjects were asked to count the number of passes made. In different versions of the video, a woman walks through the scene carrying an umbrella, or wearing a full gorilla suit. In one version, the woman in the gorilla suit even stops in the middle, faces the camera, and pounds her chest before walking out of the scene. After watching the video, the subjects are asked if they saw anything out of the ordinary. In most groups, 50 percent of the subjects did not report seeing the gorilla. The researchers explained that the subjects did not see the woman in the gorilla suit, because they were not looking for her.
I am not suggesting that every baby or child with acid reflux should be given medication. I am just recommending you take your baby or child to a physician who would recognize a gorilla if it walked in the room.
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