By Elizabeth Colsen, MD, FACS, General and Bariatric Surgeon
Is heartburn and acid reflux new to you, or have you been coping with it for years? With the pandemic and additional stress on your body, have your symptoms – stomach pain, burning chest pain called heartburn, difficulty swallowing, or taste of acid in the throat gotten worse? You may have GERD – or gastroesophageal reflux disease – caused when the lower part of the esophagus can no longer hold contents in the stomach, and it refluxes or backs up into the esophagus.
GERD symptoms can easily flare-up. After indulging in the abundance of sweet, salty, and rich foods over the holidays, you may have had to take more antacid medication than normal. In 2021, how about making a resolution to take control of something you can actually have control over? Decide to take control of your GERD symptoms. Start with lifestyle modifications, and if needed, laparoscopic surgical treatment can resolve GERD permanently.
Lifestyle changes can include changing your diet, losing weight, reducing or quitting smoking, and reducing or abstaining from drinking alcohol. Your doctor can help you identify what triggers contribute to your acid reflux and give options to help. An upper endoscopy may be recommended to examine your esophagus and stomach while under anesthesia to diagnose GERD and observe your esophagus’s health.
How is GERD treated?
If lifestyle modifications are not enough to make a noticeable difference in your GERD, your doctor may recommend that you take a prescription medication to reduce the acid in your stomach. If the medications fail to work, or for those that do not wish to take medications continually, surgery may be an option. Your doctor may order tests before surgery to confirm that you have acid reflux and your esophagus is working.
Get Permanent Relief with LINX
The goal of surgery for moderate to severe heartburn is to recreate the valve effect so that acid no longer gets into the esophagus. A newer minimally-invasive procedure called Linx® recreates a more functional esophageal sphincter. This device is a small ring of magnets that expands and retracts when you swallow. Unlike Nissen Fundoplication, you are still able to belch/vomit after surgery, providing relief as your body is meant to do. A Nissen Fundoplication is an anti-reflux surgery where part of the stomach is wrapped around the esophagus to recreate a valve. The Nissen creates a true one-way valve so the acid cannot reflux back up, but the person typically cannot belch or vomit again.
These procedures are usually laparoscopic, using small incisions, which offers a shorter hospital stay and quicker recovery. In some patients, however, certain factors may require the surgery to be an open procedure. Though patients will have some discomfort after surgery, the tradeoff is worth treating GERD and taking control of the things you no longer want to cope with.