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Heartburn/GERD Health Center

Magnetic Implant May Ease Chronic Acid Reflux

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There are, of course, less extreme ways to manage your heartburn. Diet changes and weight loss often help, and if your heartburn is milder, over-the-counter antacids or drugs called H2 blockers -- brands like Zantac and Tagamet -- may be enough.

Proton pump inhibitors, which block acid production, are often recommended for people with more frequent heartburn. If that doesn't work, surgery is typically seen as the last-ditch option.

Traditionally, that has meant a 50-year-old procedure called Nissen fundoplication, where the upper part of the stomach is stitched around the lower end of the esophagus.

Performed by an experienced surgeon, that procedure is very effective, said Dr. F. Paul Buckley III, director of general surgery at the Heartburn and Acid Reflux Center, Scott and White Clinic in Round Rock, Texas.

The problem, though, is that the surgery creates a rigid ring around the esophagus, explained Buckley, who was not involved in the new study. That often leaves patients with difficulty swallowing or with other natural bodily functions -- including belching and vomiting.

The LINX device, Buckley said, is designed to be "dynamic," expanding when food passes through, then quickly contracting again to prevent reflux.

"I think this will have a significant effect on how we treat GERD," Buckley said.

However, the device is not without problems: Two-thirds of the study patients had difficulty swallowing at first, although that dropped to 11 percent after one year, and 4 percent after three years.

Six patients had more serious side effects, including four who had the device removed -- mostly for substantial problems with swallowing. Two other patients had the device removed for "disease management," the study noted.

"The device seems to be a reasonable and fairly effective alternative," said Dr. Sigurbjorn Birgisson, a gastroenterologist and director of the Center for Swallowing and Esophageal Disorders at the Cleveland Clinic.

It might be an option for people who do not find relief from medication -- or cannot stick with long-term drug treatment because of side effects or expense, according to Birgisson, who was not involved in the study.

He added, though, that there should be further studies that compare the device with existing therapies, and look at the long-term effects.

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