Background: The belief that behavioral observations assist in the clinical diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux (GER) disease in premature neonates has not been formally tested. The purpose of this study was to determine whether esophageal acidification was associated with a recognizable pattern of behavioral changes in these infants.
Methods: The behavior of 14 healthy premature infants was recorded by a video camera while esophageal pH was simultaneously monitored. For each of 20 acid GER episodes recorded, a 10-minute video epoch, encompassing the onset of acid GER and lasting at least 4 minutes after the onset of GER, was examined. Two independent observers each scored reflux-associated epochs of “general” infant behavior and behavior previously shown to be indicative of reflux in normal term infants.
Results: The occurrence of esophageal acidification due to reflux did not significantly alter scores for general behavior. Infants frequently demonstrated reflux-specific behavior, including discomfort, head retraction, and mouthing; however, none of these behavioral patterns was temporally associated with the occurrence of acid GER.
Conclusions: These data indicate that reflux-specific behavioral criteria, established in older term infants, may be inappropriate as diagnostic criteria for GER in premature neonates and may lead to the unnecessary use of antireflux therapy.