Lots of people get heartburn. For some, the solution is as simple as avoiding pepperoni and anchovy pizzas after 9 p.m.
That, however, wasn’t the story for Linda Allor. Dietary changes, antacids and prescription medicines didn’t stop acid reflux — stomach acid moving up her esophagus to the back of her throat — and made sleep difficult, forcing her to prop herself up instead of lying flat.
“It was uncomfortable all the time,” said Allor, 58.
But not since Aug. 25, when Allor had the LINX surgery at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. It is a laparoscopic procedure that stops reflux with a simple device that looks like a child’s toy.
A flexible ring of magnets — about the size of a quarter — is placed at the bottom of the esophagus, supporting the sphincter muscles that are supposed to prevent acid from leaving the stomach. The ring expands when food or liquid come down the esophagus, then the magnets pull back together to prevent stomach acid from going up. It doesn’t prevent belching and vomiting.
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Approved by the Food and Drug Administration since 2012, LINX is accepted by insurance companies. Dr. Mark Hausmann, the surgeon who performed Allor’s procedure, said the hospital does several each week. It is one of the few facilities in south Louisiana offering the procedure, hospital officials said.
“The feedback has been very positive,” Hausmann said. “It resolves reflux in about 85 percent of patients. Some patients will need to be on some medications, but less than what they were and not typically on daily medications.”
LINX is not the only surgical strategy to combat reflux, but it is less invasive than the alternative. LINX is an outpatient procedure that involves five 5-millimeter incisions to place the ring of magnets. Allor said she needed pain medicine and received help from her mother when she went home but felt fine after five days.
“I have not had one problem since then,” Allor said. “I’m having to learn to eat slower and chew my food better. As a teacher, you learn to eat fast, and that’s something I’m having to slow down. If I eat too fast and don’t chew enough, that large (food) going down my esophagus hits that ring and I can feel it and it’s not comfortable. So, I really have to chew well so I can swallow better.”
About 20 percent of the U.S. population has problems with acid reflux, Hausmann said, which explains the popularity of well-advertised prescription medicines like Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium. Those medications are known as proton pump inhibitors that reduce the amount of acid in the stomach, making reflux less painful but not preventing it from happening.
In addition to discomfort, acid reflux can damage the lining of the esophagus, which can lead to swallowing problems, and can even lead to esophageal cancer, Hausmann said.
“It gets dismissed, but it can be life-altering,” he said.