Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as heartburn, is the most common gastrointestinal complaint for Americans. In fact, one in five people in the US suffer from GERD.
Reflux is caused by a weak muscle at the end of the esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter. This weak muscle allows acid and bile to flow back from the stomach into the esophagus causing damage to the lining of the esophagus, throat and lungs.
Common treatment plans for reflux include lifestyle modifications, dietary restrictions and medications. Twenty million people in the US are on medications such as proton pump inhibitors (antacids) for GERD. However, 38 percent of these people still have significant lifestyle-altering symptoms and 10-15 percent will go on to develop Barrett’s esophagus. This causes a 40 times greater risk of developing esophageal cancer, which is currently the fastest growing cancer in the US.
Medications may help symptoms but do not stop the progression of the disease nor decrease the rate of esophageal cancer. Long-term medication use may also cause side effects such as fractures, heart disease, kidney damage and dementia. Some studies demonstrate an increased rate of esophageal cancer with long-term medication treatment even in patients with improved symptoms.
In the past, surgical intervention for GERD included the Nissen fundoplication. This involves wrapping the upper portion of the stomach around the lower end of the esophagus by stitching it in place, hence, re-enforcing the closing function of the lower esophageal sphincter. The fundoplication is a good operation for preventing reflux, but there are possible side effects and concerns for long-term durability.
The LINX procedure is now available for GERD treatment. It is a revolutionary solution for eliminating symptoms and reducing progression of disease. LINX is a small flexible ring of magnets that opens to allow food and liquid down the esophagus, then closes to prevent stomach contents from moving back up into the esophagus. The purpose of the LINX is to reinforce the weak lower esophageal sphincter without compressing the esophagus.
Placement of the LINX is performed by a minimally invasive procedure and often the patient goes home within 24 hours on a normal diet. LINX insertion does not require alteration of the stomach and side effects are improved compared to the fundoplication. The ring of magnetic beads can be easily removed, however, the LINX is designed to be a lifelong implant that controls symptoms and reflux permanently. This allows the patient to stop the use of heartburn related medications, decreasing future risks and improve overall quality of life.
If you are interested in learning more about surgical intervention, including LINX, for GERD or to see if you are a potential candidate please call Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Heartburn Care at 419-996-5918.
Dr. Jason Bowersock and Dr. Jayde Kurland, Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center Heartburn Care