Is GERD Diagnosis Leading to Overmedicated Infants?

Doctors are increasingly making the diagnosis of “GERD,” or gastroesophageal reflux disease, in infants, and the label may be prompting parents to medicate for infant issues that pediatricians would otherwise regard as normal, such as crying and spitting up.

A new report published in the journal Pediatrics argues that the use of the disease label is leading to the growing use of medication.  “Labeling an otherwise healthy infant as having a “disease” increased parents’ interest in medicating their infant when they were told that medications are ineffective,” the article concludes. “These findings suggest that use of disease labels may promote overtreatment by causing people to believe that ineffective medications are both useful and necessary.”

Previous research has already established the growing number of medical interventions for GERD.  One 2010 study by the Food and Drug Administration found that the prescription rate for a particular class of acid blockers increased 11-fold in the years between 2002 and 2009 for babies under age 1.

The new study, which was conducted as a survey of parents in a general pediatric clinic, attributes the rise to the use of the disease label GERD.  From the survey’s abstract, “Parents who received a GERD diagnosis were interested in medicating their infant, even when they were told that the medications are likely ineffective. However, parents not given a disease label were interested in medication only when medication effectiveness was not discussed (and hence likely assumed).”

Image: Crying newborn baby, via Shutterstock

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