Millions of Americans deal with the daily heartburn of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. For many, losing weight, adopting a healthy diet and taking medication are enough to control their symptoms. For others, surgery is needed to restore quality of life.
While a decade ago, the only surgical option was fundoplication, today, patients have several good options—the newest of which is LINX.
Nikoli Bildzukewicz, MD, FACS, is a board-certified foregut surgeon with the St. Jude Digestive Health Institute and a national expert in the LINX procedure. Widely published for his innovation in the treatment of acid reflux, he offers answers to some common questions.
What is LINX?
The LINX device is a quarter-sized ring of magnetic beads that is inserted around the end of a patient’s esophagus. Swallowing temporarily breaks the magnetic bond between the titanium beads, so that food can easily enter the stomach. Magnetic attraction then causes the beads to close so stomach acid can't flow into the esophagus.
While medications only reduce the acidity of the reflux, the LINX procedure corrects the cause of reflux: a malfunctioning lower esophageal sphincter or LES. The LES is a circular bundle of muscles that allows food and liquid to flow one way, from the esophagus into the stomach. When the LES is weak or doesn’t close completely, caustic stomach acids flow backwards into the esophagus. By increasing the strength of the LES, the small LINX device restores the body’s natural barrier for preventing reflux.
Why should someone with GERD consider LINX?
If your symptoms aren’t controlled by medications or you are concerned about the side effects of remaining on medications for a lifetime, LINX should be considered.
Studies show over 90 percent of patients see their reflux symptoms disappear after having this outpatient procedure. Equally important, by eliminating the source of acid reflux, the LINX procedure can prevent esophageal damage and a progression to esophagitis (an inflamed and ulcerated esophagus), esophageal bleeding or scarring and cancer. While esophageal cancer remains uncommon, it is the fastest growing cancer in America, and most people are unaware of the role acid reflux often plays.
If your GERD is caused or worsened by a hiatal hernia (when your stomach bulges up into your chest through an opening in your diaphragm), LINX offers another benefit: the hiatal hernia can be repaired during the same procedure.
What is the recovery from LINX like?
LINX is a minimally invasive procedure performed through five small incisions and patients often go home the same day. Unlike the restrictive diets typically required with GERD surgery, with LINX, we want you to eat as normally as possible as quickly as possible. In fact, eating for LINX patients is much like physical therapy for a joint replacement—the frequent expansion and contraction of the LINX device prevents scar tissue from developing. Patients start by snacking often on foods such as fruits, yogurt, eggs, and crackers, and within 3-4 days, are back to a regular diet.
Is heartburn always a symptom with GERD?
No, about 20 percent of those with GERD don’t have heartburn or regurgitation. Instead, their symptoms include a lump in the throat, voice changes, a persistent cough or wheezing (often mistaken for asthma). Other symptoms can include frequent ear or sinus infections, gum erosion, and chest pain. In fact, one-third of ED visits for chest pain are actually reflux.
To learn more about today’s best treatment options for GERD, talk to your St. Jude gastroenterologist, call (844) 925-0944.
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