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For Acid-Reflux Sufferers, News You Can Stomach

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WebMD Health News

May 21, 2001 (Atlanta) -- For the millions of people who are burning for a better treatment for their GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, help is fast arriving.

GERD is a physical condition in which acid from the stomach flows backward into the esophagus or throat. People experience heartburn when excessive amounts of the acid splash up, or reflux, into the esophagus. Many describe heartburn as a feeling of burning discomfort behind the breastbone that moves up toward the neck and throat. Some also complain of a bitter or sour taste of the acid in the back of the throat.

For those who can't control their symptoms with new medications -- including proton-pump inhibitors such as Prilosec and H2 antagonists such as Zantac -- a new outpatient procedure might help them skip surgery, their only other alternative.

It's called the Stretta procedure. And while it's no walk in the park, the 45-minute procedure is far less invasive than surgery -- and patients go home in a few hours, often returning to work the next day.

"What we do is deliver radiofrequency energy to the ... lower portion of the esophagus at its junction with the stomach, so less stomach acid leaks [up] into the esophagus," says George Triadafilopoulos, MD, a digestive diseases expert from Stanford University.

The Stretta device is a thin tube, or catheter, with a balloon at the end. With the patient conscious but under heavy sedation, the catheter is guided through the mouth to the end of the esophagus just above the stomach. There the balloon is inflated, exposing four sharp probes on the outside of the balloon. The probes then discharge high-frequency radio waves into the muscle at the top of the stomach. After several rounds of this process, the muscle -- which is too loose in GERD patients -- becomes much tighter. Tightening the muscle keeps stomach acid from splashing up into the esophagus.

Triadafilopoulos evaluated the Stretta procedure in a multicenter study of more than 100 GERD patients. He reported the findings here at the Digestive Disease Week conference.

One year after undergoing the procedure, nearly two-thirds of the patients were able to stop taking all of their acid-blocking medicines. Overall, the patients reported feeling significantly better six months after treatment -- and even better at the 12-month mark.

Ten of the patients had minor complications from the procedure that included fever, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing. All of these symptoms got better on their own and did not require treatment.

According to the American College of Gastroenterology, each day 25 million Americans complain of heartburn symptoms. Depending on the severity of GERD, treatment may be as simple as lifting the head of the bed or stopping smoking. But in others, medications is needed -- or in more severe cases, surgery.

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