Treating Acid Reflux

Though hardly a fashion statement, a new bracelet-like device could help manage the painful effects of gastroesophageal reflux disease, more commonly known as chronic acid reflux or GERD.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Florida have developed an esophageal sphincter device for GERD that tackles the chronic digestive disorder without the need for medications. The results of the Mayo Clinic study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers showed major improvements in the 100 patients tested with the magnetic device, which resembles a lap band for the esophageal sphincter. Patients reported fewer reflux symptoms and a decrease in the need for proton-pump inhibiting medications that normally keep stomach acid at bay.

"This is the first new, safe and effective treatment we have to treat reflux disease in 20 years," said Dr. C. Daniel Smith, co-author of the study, in a press release. "The device is simple, elegant, and functional, and it provides an opportunity to help a very large number of patients.”

How Does It Work?

Similar to the lap band for weight loss, the bracelet-like device outfitted with magnetic beads fits around the intersection of the esophagus and stomach, keeping it closed when a person is not eating or drinking.

Stomach acid that flows backward into the esophagus can cause extreme discomfort, nausea, and vomiting in people who suffer from chronic acid reflux. When the sphincter muscle is weak, the acid can more easily flow into the esophagus, causing pain and a burning sensation. The new device stops this back-flow before it begins.

What Does This Mean for Gastrointestinal Health?

Many current treatments for GERD don’t get to the root of the problem, and so they provide only a temporary solution. The new device can provide more effective, longer-lasting results for patients.

The technology still needs perfecting—the device was removed due to adverse effects in several patients in the study—but with some fine-tuning, the esophageal bracelet will offer a whole new type of treatment to GERD sufferers.

“The only treatment options in the past have been acid-suppressing agents or surgery,” Smith said. “Acid-suppressing agents don't directly address the underlying ineffective valve, leaving patients with persistent symptoms; surgery can lead to distressing side effects of bloating and inability to vomit in 20 percent of patients. These side effects occurred rarely with this new device."

What Are the Symptoms of GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, may cause:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • bloating
  • cough
  • indigestion
  • sore throat
  • difficulty swallowing

How Can I Manage My GERD?

Because esophageal sphincter augmentation might still be considered a last resort for many, there a number of other treatments available:

  • Use proton-pump inhibitors or H2 blockers to manage the amount of acid in the stomach.
  • Avoid acidic foods, such as citrus fruits and vinegar.
  • Avoid medications that may weaken the sphincter or upset the esophageal lining, including aspirin and ibuprofen.

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