What is Reflux?

What is Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux?

The word reflux means to flow back or return; ‘gastro’ is a term related to the stomach; and ‘oesophageal’ relates to the oesophagus (food pipe). Following this, the term ‘gastro-oesophageal reflux’ is where stomach contents (comprising food and stomach acid) flow back into the oesophagus. This can commonly be seen with babies who posset following a feed, although it can be so much more than that. Gastro-oesophageal reflux can range in severity from being an occasional nuisance, to being severe and debilitating; it can also improve or worsen for a variety of reasons, with a child having good or bad days or weeks.

There can be a lot of confusion about gastro-oesophageal reflux, because the term is often used to describe the single event, the condition and the disease (Orenstein, 1992). The act of refluxing is the single event; it is a normal process that virtually everyone does at times. When a child refluxes more frequently, doctors may diagnose it as gastro-oesophageal reflux, the condition (GOR). When a child has complications as a result of their reflux, doctors may diagnose it as gastro-oesophageal reflux, the disease (i.e. gastro-oesophageal reflux disease/GORD). For more information on GOR and GORD, please see the article ‘GOR and GORD difference’.

It is important to remember not all vomiting or irritability is indicative of reflux, and families should seek a medical opinion to find the cause of their baby or child’s signs/symptoms.

RISA Inc supports families of babies and children who have been diagnosed with either gastro-oesophageal reflux or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (families who do not have a diagnosis are encouraged to talk to their child’s doctor or child health nurse).

While awareness of reflux seems to be growing, many families still face community perceptions of reflux being a common or even trivial complaint that babies ‘get over’. While in most cases this is true, children can experience a wide range of symptoms, some quite severe, resulting in complications and occasionally surgery. Signs and symptoms of reflux, such as refusal to feed or prolonged bouts of screaming can be stressful and overwhelming. (For a list of possible signs and symptoms of gastro-oesophageal reflux, please see the article ‘How Reflux Presents’.)

Even when a baby or child is suffering from relatively uncomplicated reflux, families often need reassurance, and enjoy talking to someone who understands. For the families whose baby or child suffers complications as a result of their reflux, it is even more important that they can talk to other parents, and have the support and reassurance they need to get through this stressful experience.

For more information on this topic, see the presentation at our 2013 conference by Professor Geoff Cleghorn, Paediatric Gastroenterologist on Diagnosis and medical management of infant GORD – introductory clip. Buy full version here.

Written by Glenda Blanch RISA Inc member and author of “Reflux Reality: A Guide for Families” in association with RISA Inc © 2010

Additional information on gastro-oesophageal reflux is provided in our book “Reflux Reality: A Guide for Families”.

Information reviewed by:

Dr Anthony Catto-Smith,
Director, Department of Gastroenterology and Clinical Nutrition,
Royal Children’s Hospital,
Melbourne. Victoria. Australia
With the exception of Professor Geoff Cleghorn’s presentation which is his own work.


  1. Orenstein, S. R. (1992). Gastroesophageal Reflux. Pediatrics in Review , 13, 174 – 182.
  2. Strudwick, S. (2003). Gastro-oesophageal reflux and feeding: the speech and language therapist’s perspective.International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology , International Congress Series 1254, 131 – 33.

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