Magnetic Implant May Ease Chronic Acid Reflux
By Amy Norton
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 20 (HealthDay News) -- An implanted magnetic device could offer a new treatment option for people with chronic heartburn that is not controlled with medication, a small study suggests.
The study, reported in the Feb. 21 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, tested a newer approach to taming stubborn cases of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) -- one of the most common health conditions diagnosed in the United States.
GERD arises when the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach fails to close properly, allowing stomach acids to splash up into the esophagus. The main symptom is chronic heartburn.
For people who have frequent heartburn -- more than twice a week -- the go-to medications are the so-called proton pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium. But studies estimate that up to 40 percent of people on those drugs do not get enough relief.
The new study included 100 such GERD patients. They all received an implant -- a bracelet-like device composed of magnetic beads -- that wraps around the portion of muscle where the esophagus joins the stomach. The point is to "augment" the muscle and prevent stomach acid reflux.
After three years, researchers found, 64 percent of the patients had their acid reflux cut by at least half. And 87 percent had been able to stop taking their proton pump inhibitors altogether.
"That's huge," lead researcher Dr. Robert Ganz said of the medication reduction.
It's estimated that Americans spend $14 billion a year on prescription proton pump inhibitors. Because of the costs and potential side effects, many people would like to drop the drugs, said Ganz, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
He cited bone-thinning as one potential long-term side effect. "A lot of women do not want to be on proton pump inhibitors for that reason in particular," Ganz said.
The device his team studied is already approved in the United States and marketed as the LINX Reflux Management System by Torax Medical, Inc., which also funded the study.
Ganz said he could envision the device as an option for "some fraction" of the 20 million to 30 million Americans who take a daily medication for GERD symptoms.
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.