Health Team

Minimally invasive procedure can move heartburn patients off medication

Posted June 2, 2016 10:49 a.m. EDT
Updated June 3, 2016 12:28 p.m. EDT

About 30 percent of adults in the United States suffer from GERD, better known as heartburn or acid reflux.

Doctors now know that long-term use of proton pump inhibitors, such as Nexium and omeprazole, contribute to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, kidney damage or even heart disease. So, more sufferers are looking for minimally invasive procedures for help.

After years of taking proton pump inhibitor medications, 66-year-old Ava Thompson came to Duke University physicians Dr. Dana Portenier, Dr. Chan Park and Dr. Keri Seymour to get help. She had already suffered some complications from medication.

"I had developed asthma and laryngitis," Thompson said. She also had bone loss and an iron deficiency.

The Duke team offered an approach without incisions or medications, called Stretta.

With acid reflux, the muscle that should close off the esophagus to prevent the back wash of stomach acid is weakened.

With Stretta, an endoscope is sent down the throat and to the entrance of the stomach. A balloon is expanded and little spikes or probes come out.

"(The balloon delivers) some radio frequency energy into the musculature of the esophagus," Portenier said. "And it actually causes the muscle to grow and thicken up, so it helps prevent the acid reflux."

Thompson had her procedure done under general anesthesia. For several weeks after, she stayed on liquids and soft foods.

"It takes a good 6 months for the muscle to grow up fully," Portenier said. "So, it's not something that you can expect overnight results."

Thompson had her procedure in August of 2015, and she said it's helped.

"After a lifetime of heartburn and reflux, I am heartburn free," Thompson said.

She can now enjoy her favorite meal—eastern North Carolina chopped barbecue with vinegar and red pepper sauce—without fear of heartburn.

The Stretta procedure is not new: It's been around for more than 10 years, but more acid reflux sufferers are interested in learning more about minimally invasive procedures to help them get off acid reflux drugs.