Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which the contents of the stomach flow into the esophagus, causing symptoms such as heartburn, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, dry cough and/or sore throat. GERD affects 20 percent of Americans, and approximately 20 million people have pursued medical management. Although a surgical cure has been available for decades, most patients have chosen to use medication to manage their GERD.
However, over-the-counter medication does not treat the underlying problem. While it neutralizes the acid coming up from the stomach, the acid still comes up. The only way to stop the reflux from occurring altogether is by surgical management.
Northwestern Medicine is pleased to offer LINX®, a new laparoscopic procedure to treat GERD. This procedure involves a string of metal beads that are drawn together by a magnet. When this string is placed around the lower esophagus, the magnet pulls the beads together and closes off the esophagus from the stomach. When the patient swallows, the beads separate to allow food to pass into the stomach. The magnet then draws the beads back together to keep acid from going up into the esophagus.
The success rate for LINX is very high. Of the patients who undergo this procedure, 90 to 95 percent are able to stop taking medication completely and the remaining 5 to 10 percent rarely take medication. There are also several advantages to this procedure over the previous approaches used to treat GERD. Recovery time is typically quick, with patients commonly going home the same day. Patients are also encouraged to eat right away after the LINX procedure, whereas previous surgical approaches have required patients to follow a liquid diet for up to two weeks.
Patients 21 years of age and older who are healthy enough for surgery may qualify for LINX. All patients must undergo pre-surgical testing to determine their candidacy. These tests include:
- Upper GI barium swallow
- Upper GI endoscopy
- Esophageal motility study to determine if the esophagus is the actual cause of GERD
- 48-hour acid test to determine the frequency of reflux events
Patients who do not qualify for LINX may be candidates for the more traditional laparoscopic procedure performed by Northwestern Medicine surgeons.