QA With Author Tracy Davenport: Perceptions of Reflux Pain

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Guide
  • HealthCentral Interviews Tracy Davenport About Her New Book, “Making Life Better for a Child With Acid Reflux”

    In your book, you give parents a tool to think about the way they are responding to their child during times of discomfort from reflux. If parents can change their language/words about how they talk about reflux, can that change their perception of their child’s pain?

    First, let’s talk about pain in those who cannot use language to communicate.

    Just because a person cannot talk or communicate, like an infant, doesn’t mean there is no pain. Infants just have to express pain in different ways than someone who can yell and scream, like an adult when he hits his thumb with a hammer.
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    To help clarify my point, I want to provide you with some information from a recent article from the International Journal of Nursing in which the author looked at the latest research on gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in nonverbal adults—primarily people who could not speak due to severe mental retardation. What the author discovered was that many of the adults who could not speak, expressed their acid reflux pain through behaviors such as eating or sleeping changes, mood changes, screaming, biting, head banging and aggression. In this article, the author reminded the reader that even though these behaviors can be “problem” behaviors, they serve a specific function (to communicate discomfort) and do not occur randomly but happen in response to painful experiences caused by reflux.

    Unfortunately, we often see and hear about infants who have acid reflux and are expressing pain similarly to the way these adults without words express their discomfort and are being dismissed as having behavior “problems.”

    The experts in the field agree that GERD affects both the health and quality of life of those who suffer its symptoms. We all need to understand that just because a baby can’t use words to report on these pain episodes, it does not mean that the discomfort does not exist.

    When our son was an infant he would wake up screaming, and then his next move was to try to pull my hair with all his might. As a parent, it would have been easy to see this behavior as a “problem” and not as an appropriate means of communication of the pain and distress he was experiencing.

    So as a parent, a simple choice of wording may be necessary to accurately describe what is being communicated. For instance, if our son was up seven times in one night (which he often was) and we said something like, “Last night was miserable. Ben was up all night,” we seem to be placing the blame on our son and suggesting he was making a choice, like a teenager who wanted to stay up all night watching bad television. Instead, if we were to say, “Ben was up a lot last night, The pain must have been tough,” we are taking away blame and trying to understand what he was communicating to us. . . PAIN.

    Hopefully this information and all that is beginning to be understood about acid reflux can translate into an acquired compassion for the babies and children who are doing their best at trying to tell us what is wrong. I only wish I would have had this article when I was told by a few in the medical community…”it’s just behavioral.” Now, I couldn’t agree more.
Published On: July 13, 2006