Rocky Mountain-region patients living with Acid Reflux disease, also known as GERD, have welcome relief – literally and figuratively – at the hands of Swedish Medical Center’s Reginald Bell, M.D.
Bell is the only physician in the region performing a new procedure in patients suffering from this debilitating disease. It’s known as the LINX® Reflux Management procedure. Acid Reflux, or GERD as it is sometimes called, is a chronic and often life-long condition in which the acidic liquid content of one’s stomach regurgitates back into the esophagus. Inflaming the lining of the esophagus, it leaves patients with an intense burning sensation. While medication can help in less serious cases, for many, there is no relief, until now.
The LINX® System is a minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure that implants a series of interlinked titanium beads with magnetic cores into the esophagus just above the stomach. The magnetic attraction between the beads augments the existing esophageal sphincter’s barrier function to prevent reflux.
According to Bell, who has performed the procedure on a handful of Denver-area patients, the LINX treatment is a good choice for patients who are in the early stages of GERD.
“We are excited to be able to offer the LINX as a therapeutic option to patients with GERD,” Bell says. “I am amazed at the number of patients with GERD who are unaware that there are options other than taking a pill for the rest of their lives! We have worked to become specialists in the diagnosis and minimally invasive treatment of GERD, and were honored when Torax asked us to be their initial site for the Rocky Mountain region.”
Swedish Medical Center patient Cindy Bledsoe, 57, was the ideal candidate for the LINX implant, says Bell because she had medically resistant symptoms and early reflux. She did not have a hiatal hernia and only mild increases in esophageal acid exposure. In this setting, he says, a minimally-invasive procedure with a low risk/side effect profile is desirable. Bledsoe, a first grade teacher, was plagued by a continuous and chronic cough, often appearing as if she was choking at times. In addition, her oxygen saturation level was at 88 percent and doctors advised her that being significantly overweight contributed to her health problems. Several doctors and tests later, Bledsoe was referred to Bell, who performed the LINX procedure on her in October.
“Before the procedure, acid reflux/GERD controlled my life. And the cough was actually scary for my first grade students,” Bledsoe says. “Immediately after the LINX procedure, however, the cough went away and my oxygen levels went back up to between 96-98 percent.”
Bledsoe calls the decision to have the LINX procedure “life changing,” and has been removed from some of her pre-diagnosis medications as a result.
“LINX was designed specifically for this group of patients whose symptoms are not controlled adequately by medication and who do not have big hiatal hernias, bad esophagitis or other things we see with more advanced disease,” Bell says of the device manufactured by Torax® Medical, Inc. The LINX System is currently the only available device for the treatment of GERD approved by the FDA through its rigorous PMA process. It is indicated for patients who have problems with reflux despite medication, who have a hiatal hernia of less than three centimeters and who have fairly normal esophageal motility. Like other patients with pacemakers and some other implants, patients with the LINX procedure should not have an MRI, but can have alternative imaging procedures such as CT scans.
Symptoms of GERD include heartburn, regurgitation, cough and chest pain. Acid suppression drugs, such as Prevacid®, Nexium®, and Prilosec® affect gastric acid production but do not repair the sphincter defect and allow continued reflux. GERD can progress to a pre-cancerous condition known as Barrett’s esophagus and possibly esophageal cancer. Approximately seven percent of adults in western countries suffer daily from symptoms of GERD.
According to Bell, in a clinical trial of 100 patients, 92 percent of patients achieved freedom from daily dependence on PPIs, 90 percent of patients experienced a reduction in total acid exposure time, 93 percent of patients achieved significant symptom improvement and the percent of patients reporting moderate to severe regurgitation was reduced from 57 percent to one percent after the LINX procedure.