Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Everyone has likely (and unfortunately) experienced acid reflux or heartburn symptoms at some point. The burning fullness, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, and stomach discomfort can be unbearable at times. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), however, is diagnosed when these acid reflux symptoms occur more frequently—at least once per week. GERD happens when part of the esophagus that connects to the stomach either relaxes or does not fully close while food is digesting, causing stomach acid to move out of the stomach and back into the esophagus.

For many with gastroesophageal reflux disease, these acid indigestion symptoms typically happen after most, if not all, meals and can become more severe at night. For children and teenagers, symptoms can last several hours, disrupting the school day, homework and study sessions, and extra-curricular activities.




Impact in the Classroom

Strategies for the educator

Because gastroesophageal reflux tends to flare up or worsen after meals, students may experience their more severe acid reflux symptoms during afternoon classes and/or after lunch.

If possible, counselors should try to plan ahead for students with GERD by scheduling major or core classes in the morning, before lunch. This way, a student’s symptoms are not distracting them during their major academic classes.


Schools should also suggest a 504 plan or initiate a parent/teacher conference to discuss the benefits of arranging an academic health plan so that scheduling and other modifications can be prioritized and more guaranteed.

Students with GERD may lose sleep due to severe nighttime symptoms. This can lead to lethargy, low energy/focus, and absenteeism.

If students appear exhausted or severely unfocused, schools can offer access to a flash pass, allowing students to visit the nurse or counselling office for a brain break or to recuperate and rest before heading back to class.

For students with severe cases of GERD, attendance could be spotty; tardiness could also be frequent, causing students to miss out on important instruction and learning.

To ensure that students are meeting their grade level objectives, teachers can consider reducing a student’s workload after frequent absences. This means that teachers determine which tasks are imperative for students to complete to meet benchmarks, then assign only those tasks.


Educators might also provide extended time for larger assignments, meaning that due dates and deadlines are extended to ensure that students have opportunities to seek clarification, ask additional questions, and pace themselves through the necessary work.


Teacher notes and outlines are also beneficial when students are prone to absences. These resources ensure that students are able to absorb the key points from certain lessons that they may have missed. They also provide an opportunity for student/teacher check-ins so that educators can review outlines, notes, and PowerPoints one-on-one.

Physical activity could cause symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux to worsen, making physical education classes and other athletic activities uncomfortable or even unbearable.  

If students are experiencing indigestion or acid reflux symptoms, running, jumping, sit-ups, etc. could exacerbate the pain. P.E. teachers should be sure to provide alternative lessons and activities that allow students with GERD to participate. Options for physical activity might include light jogging or walking, balance exercises, controlled weight training, standing yoga poses, climbing, and swimming.


Counselling can also help with scheduling to ensure that a student’s P.E. class does not directly follow the student’s lunch period, as physical activity right after eating can cause stomach symptoms to worsen.


Hydration is also key in keeping symptoms at bay while exercising. Teachers should allow and promote a student’s option to carry a water bottle during the school day.




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