One of the hardest times in a young persons life can be the teenage years. In the 9 years that I have been working with the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER) I have talked with a lot of teens who have GERD. Some have had mild symptoms and some have had severe symptoms for a long time before they are properly treated.
Several of these teens have discussed with me that they were initially accused of having eating disorders before they were properly diagnosed with GERD. Of course the converse can also be true. A teen with an eating disorder can use GERD as an excuse or cover up for their disordered eating. Unfortunately many of the physical symptoms can be similar. For example, weight loss, soar throats, complaining about foods, difficulty eating and frequent trips to the bathroom are all symptoms of both GERD and an eating disorder.
So, what is a parent to do? First, don’t self medicate. While there are a vast array of reflux medication available over the counter resist the urge to diagnose your child on your own. Next, make sure your child is seen by their pediatrician and that the proper testing is done as necessary. Should the prescribed treatment for GERD not work, especially after numerous trials, it might be time to seek psychiatric treatment or further evaluation. Even if your child does not end up being diagnosed with disordered eating, seeing a therapist to discus the ramifications of having a chronic illness like GERD can prove beneficial.
If you are afraid that your child or someone you know may have an eating disorder please do not ignore the issues. Eating disorders kill. For more information on the subject check out the National Eating Disorders Association website. They have great tips for dealing with a vast array of issues as well as a more detailed list of eating disorder symptoms.
Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.