Acid reflux meds not working? Surgery can help

NBC Baltimore

BALTIMORE — Those who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease often are able to use medicinal and traditional treatments to manage the disease, but when those don’t work, doctors said surgery can be an option to correct it.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, affects millions of Americans, and doctors said the number of cases is increasing, which is concerning because GERD can put people at risk for esophageal cancer.

“(GERD happens when) gastric contents, predominately acid, are refluxing from the stomach into the esophagus. Acid belongs in the stomach. It’s OK to have acid there. But it does not belong in the esophagus, and that’s when people run into trouble,” said Mercy Medical Center gastroenterologist Dr. Patrick Hyatt.

Hyatt said GERD is treated most of the time with antacid medication.

“The medications we have right now are pretty potent and, in most situations, especially for typical heartburn symptoms, they work very well, but you will always have a small minority of patients who do not respond appropriately to acid medication alone,” he said.

Mercy Dr. Nora Meenaghan said for that small minority of patients, surgery may be an option to correct GERD.

“We essentially wrap part of the stomach around the esophagus right where it meets the stomach to kind of recreate that sphincter — or that valve — that keeps the acid in the stomach and keeps it from coming back up into the esophagus,” she said.

Meenaghan said the procedure is typically done laproscopically — by inserting a tube through a small incision — and takes a few hours. Patients usually stay overnight in the hospital and have a particular diet regiment for a few weeks after.

“Most people will have you on at least a soft diet for several weeks after the surgery just to avoid any irritation in that area. Also, there’s some swelling that happens immediately after the surgery, so it can feel a little bit difficult to swallow in the first few days and weeks,” Meenaghan said.

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