For most people, acid reflux is an annoyance that happens every so often if they eat the wrong food or drink too much coffee; but for others, it can be a serious problem that needs medical help. If you keep a bottle of antacids with you everywhere you go, or regularly take over-the-counter anti-reflux medications, chances are you are suffering from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD. According to the National Institutes of Health, around 20% of adults in the U.S. have GERD.
Symptoms of GERD can include heartburn, feeling like there’s a lump in your throat, difficulty swallowing, chest pain, and the regurgitation of food and liquid. Those who have acid reflux at night can also experience disrupted sleep, coughing, laryngitis, and increased asthma. If you’re having chest pains, seek help immediately — this could be something more than heartburn: it could be a heart attack.
So what do you do if you’re constantly chewing antacids even while taking medication for your acid reflux? When all that isn’t enough, there’s a minimally invasive procedure that can get you off the meds and be a life changer for those who suffer from GERD.
“It’s all done using a gastroscope through your mouth while you are asleep,” says Dan Davis, M.D., FACS, a surgeon with Med Center Health General Surgery. “There’s no cutting, and it’s a 30-minute procedure.” The procedure is Transoral Incisionless Fundoplication, or TIF, and it is revolutionizing how patients with severe reflux are being treated. Fundoplication procedures have been around for more than 50 years. Fundus refers to the upper part of the stomach, and “-plication” means an operation that reduces the size of a hollow organ such as the stomach. What makes TIF different is that it is performed through the mouth rather than as laparoscopy, which requires multiple incisions, or the even more invasive open surgery of the abdomen. TIF also doesn’t have some of the side effects associated with more invasive procedures, such as bloating, increased gas, inability to vomit and trouble swallowing.
TIF works by reducing a hiatal hernia and creating a valve to repair the anti-reflux barrier. “We put little fasteners in to reinforce your gastroesophageal sphincter,” says Dr. Davis. “This is the muscle that helps keep the acid in your stomach. After this procedure, 90 percent of people have improvement of their symptoms, and 70 percent of people can get off of their proton pump inhibitors.” The procedure also helps patients avoid the possibility of chronic acid reflux causing permanent damage to their esophagus, which can lead to narrowing of the esophagus, Barrett’s Esophagus and possibly esophageal cancers.
What causes acid reflux in the first place? Most of the time, it’s the patient’s own anatomy that is the culprit. Normally, a valve between the stomach and the esophagus allows food to pass but then closes to keep stomach acid in the stomach. When this valve doesn’t function as it should, acid and non-acidic fluids can backwash into the esophagus. Anyone with GERD can tell you this isn’t just annoying — it can be very painful. There are many reasons the valve might not be working as it should, including genetics, injury, obesity, diet or age.
If you suffer from GERD and medication isn’t working for you anymore, learn more about the incision-less TIF procedure by calling Med Center Health General Surgery at 270-780-2690.
Reviewed 5-2018 Dan Davis, MD, FACS