Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) occurs when acid and enzymes that belong in the stomach are pushed back up (reflux) into the esophagus. Stomach acid has a pH of around 2. That’s strong enough to eat through some metals. We use it to digest an amazing variety of foods, absorb important nutrients, and to fight off food-borne diseases. The stomach is uniquely built to handle these powerful substances, but the esophagus is not.Under normal conditions the esophagus has a sphincter, a muscular valve that keeps acid in the stomach, yet relaxes to allow food to pass through when we eat and drink. GERD is a mechanical problem that arises when this sphincter is too weak to do its job. It is a matter of the right stuff finding its way to the wrong place.
When reflux happens, most people will experience heartburn or indigestion. Some will regurgitate food they had previously swallowed or will have difficulty swallowing. Others will have a persistent, bitter taste in their mouth or salivate excessively. Some will experience a persistent sore throat, cough, or hoarseness (from the acid reaching their vocal cords at night). GERD is a frequent cause of Asthma. Many GERD patients even have chest pain so severe that it mimics a heart attack!
One in every five Americans suffer from GERD. Over 20 million are on prescription medications for it, often spending thousands of dollars per year. Thirty to forty percent of them still have bothersome symptoms and now take double or triple the amount of medication they had started with. News reports have also emerged which suggest some serious side effects from being on reflux medication for long periods of time. GERD is a mechanical problem. We have been using a chemical solution. For many, it is not working as well as they had hoped.
At HFM, we are now offering a new, research proven mechanical solution for GERD. It is called the LINX procedure. LINX works by restoring the strength of the esophagus’ sphincter. It consists of a small ring of interconnected magnets placed around the esophagus. Between meals, those magnets gently hold the valve shut, keeping acid in the stomach where it belongs. When you swallow, the magnets separate, and the ring opens, allowing food to enter the stomach. The magnets are custom engineered; strong enough to prevent reflux, but gentle enough that patients can still belch when they need to or vomit if they get sick and need to.
Over 10,000 patients in the United States have now had the LINX procedure. Researchers have now followed their results for 5-6 years. The effects of the operation are proving to stand the test of time because the magnets don’t wear out. Since the acid can’t reflux any more, patients can stop taking their antacid medications, usually for good. While any procedure has its own risks and side effects, those related to LINX appear to be temporary, uncommon, and are far more tolerable than previous reflux surgery procedures. LINX patients consistently report higher satisfaction with their reflux control and overall quality of life than when they were treated with medication. LINX is not for everyone. A detailed evaluation of your particular GERD story can help determine which reflux management strategy is best for you.
HFM has a comprehensive Reflux Program to help you better manage this miserable, but often-overlooked disease. For more information, you can call 320-GERD or visit us at www.hfmhealth.org/GERD. For more information regarding LINX specifically, go to www.hfmhealth.org/LINX
About the author.
Matthew Campbell, MD, is a general surgeon with HFM General & Vascular Surgery.