Local News

Reflux Disease Test Easier For Patients To Swallow

Posted May 28, 2002

— Doctors used to call it heartburn, but more than 20 million Americans have a more serious condition called reflux disease. Unfortunately for many of them, getting tested for this disease can be just as uncomfortable. There are details on a new tool that is a lot easier for patients to swallow.

For Ray Brown, what started out as minor heartburn is now a serious problem.

"I've constantly had the reflux with the heartburn and food and acid coming back up," he said.

Brown has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). What happens is stomach acid flows up into the esohpagus. The acid irritates and damages the lining of the esophagus.

The test used to diagnose and monitor GERD requires patients spend 24 hours wearing a catheter that runs through the nose and down to the esophagus. The catheter measures pH levels. While it is effective, some patients said it is not comfortable.

"Whenever I turned my head, it would make me want to gag," Brown said.

There is now a new catheter-free way to test your pH level. It uses a tiny computerized capsule about the size of a vitamin.

Doctors lower the capsule into the esophagus and attach it to the tissue wall. The capsule monitors pH levels, transmitting data wirelessly to an external pager-like receiver. Most patients forget it is there.

"I have no feeling whatsoever it doesn't really restrict any activities," Brown said.

Doctors like the feedback.

"It's relatively painless for the patient, and it gives you not only 24 hours worth of data, it really gives you 48 hours worth of data," gastroenterologist Dr. Joel Richter said.

Doctors use the data to determine the best way to treat that patient's reflux. A few days later, the capsule falls off and is easily passed through the digestive system.

The Bravo monitor is made by Medtronic. There are medications and surgeries to treat GERD. If you are experiencing reflux, doctors suggest elevating the head of your bed around 6 inches, avoid foods that cause heartburn and eat smaller portions.

Antacids can provide temporary relief, but if you are using them constantly, you should call your doctor.

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