Chronic acid reflux has a new treatment option

Contributing columnistSeptember 14, 2013 

Have you ever added a little extra hot sauce to your meal, only to be up all night with heartburn and an upset stomach? While it might seem like only a mild inconvenience or a reminder to back off from your spicy food intake, repeated bouts of heartburn could be a sign of a more serious medical condition.

Chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease is a costly and widespread problem in the United States. According to a recent study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 60 percent of adults will experience some type of GERD during the course of a year. The estimated cost of treating GERD tops $9 billion annually.

When we eat, millions of tiny "pumps" in the stomach produce acid that helps us digest food. Typical reflux medications are designed to shut these pumps down. People who suffer from reflux typically have a weak lower esophageal sphincter that allows the acid made by these pumps and bile to reflux from the stomach into the esophagus, causing discomfort.

Symptoms can include persistent heartburn (pain or burning in the chest), hoarseness or sore throat, laryngitis, chronic dry cough, asthma, feeling as if there is a lump in your throat, vomiting, a sour taste in your mouth, and earaches. Continued exposure to stomach acid can cause irritation in the esophagus and may eventually lead to damage, a condition known as erosive esophagitis or, in it's most advanced stages, esophageal cancer.

For those who experience mild heartburn or infrequent episodes of reflux, lifestyle changes such as weight loss, quitting smoking and eating smaller, bland meals may successfully reduce symptoms. For others who suffer from moderate to severe GERD, medication such as antacids, H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors could control or suppress acid production in the stomach. However, these medications do not address the underlying causes of reflux and don't do anything to prevent it.

A procedure now is available that provides an excellent and safe alternative to conventional surgery and medications to successfully treat patients with chronic, unrelenting GERD.

The LINX Reflux Management System is an FDA-approved, minimally invasive surgical treatment for chronic GERD. Since it was first made available four years ago, the LINX procedure has positively impacted the lives of nearly one thousand chronic heartburn and acid reflux sufferers across the country. Patients with chronic GERD in whom traditional medications are no longer effective or carry unpleasant side effects are ideal candidates for this minimally invasive procedure.

The LINX Reflux Management System is an implantable device that serves as an artificial lower esophageal sphincter. It is made up of a small, flexible band of beads, each with a magnet inside. When placed around the outside of the esophagus, the magnetic attraction between the beads helps the sphincter stay closed to prevent reflux. Swallowing allows the beads to separate so that food and liquid pass normally into the stomach.

The LINX treatment is performed in a hospital setting. Patients are placed under general anesthesia during the procedure, in which a surgeon laparoscopically implants the device through a series of five small incisions. The surgery generally lasts less than one hour, and patients usually go home the same day or the next day and are able to eat a normal diet.

Current studies show that patients who undergo the procedure typically do not require anti-reflux medications and are very satisfied with their symptom response.

Dr. Jason Harris, a general surgeon whose area of interest is advanced laparoscopic surgery, is with Bluegrass Surgical Group.

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