Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), commonly known as acid reflux disease, affects as many as one in five Americans.
If the valve at the bottom of the esophagus leading to the stomach doesn’t close completely, food particles or acid from the stomach can flow back into the esophagus, leading to heartburn and/or regurgitation.
But many people are finding relief from GERD through a relatively new technique called the LINX procedure, which St. Elizabeth Healthcare offers.
Here are five things to know about the procedure:
Conservative treatment remains the first option
Some acid reflux sufferers will find relief from a combination of diet changes, lifestyle changes and medication. Spicy foods, onions, chocolate, citrus fruit and fatty foods are among those to avoid. When you eat can be as important as what you eat, said Dr. Valerie Williams, Thoracic Surgeon at St. Elizabeth Healthcare.
If you have GERD symptoms, don’t eat close to bedtime, instead giving your stomach a chance to empty itself. Finally, over-the-counter antacids or doctor-prescribed proton pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec, can help neutralize stomach acid.
Surgery addresses the root problem
When adjustments to diet and lifestyle, and medication, don’t provide sufficient relief, surgery might be the answer. Those measures address GERD symptoms, but they don’t fix the problem of the lower esophageal valve (LES) allowing food particles and fluids to back up into the esophagus. Dr. Williams said about 30 percent of patients will still be symptomatic after those therapies. The surgical answer for years has been fundoplication, in which the top part of the stomach, or fundus, is wrapped around the esophagus and to recreate the valve. Because it becomes more of a “one-way valve,” patients can have trouble burping or vomiting and pass more gas from the bottom.
Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2012, the LINX device, slightly larger than a quarter, is a ring of titanium beads with magnetic cores. The attraction helps the esophageal sphincter perform its intended function.
“It doesn’t compress tissue; it augments the valve you already have,” Dr. Williams said. “Your anatomy is not altered. It’s much closer to what you were born with.”
More than 8,000 devices have been implanted nationwide, she said.
Advantages of LINX
The LINX device can be implanted through a laparoscopic procedure, which is minimally invasive and takes about an hour. Patients can return home the same day. Also, patients can start on a regular diet right away. In fact, Dr. Williams encourages eating every two to three hours at first to break in the device.
It doesn’t have the same side effects of the fundoplication procedure, and according to manufacturer Torax Medical:
• 85 percent of LINX patients went off daily acid reflux medication;
• 88 percent reported no heartburn symptoms; and
• 89 percent reported no regurgitation.
Long-term health benefits
GERD is more than a nuisance. Besides digestive issues, pain and sleep disruption, it also can lead to a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, in which the tissue lining the esophagus becomes abnormal, precancerous tissue.
People with Barrett’s have a 50 times greater chance of developing esophageal cancer, which is the fastest-growing cancer in terms of number of Americans diagnosed, Dr. Williams said.
To make an appointment with Dr. Williams, call (859) 301-2465.