Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a very common condition with studies estimating that it affects around 20% of U.S. adults. You may also hear of it referred to as heartburn since the pain that sufferers experience affects the chest area and can sometimes feel like it around the heart.
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acids backflow from the stomach into the esophagus, irritating and inflaming the delicate tissue and causing pain. This usually happens as a result of a problem with a small ring of muscle, called the lower esophageal sphincter or LES. The LES acts like a one-way valve, letting food pass from the esophagus into the stomach. When the LES doesn’t function properly, acids can escape the top of the stomach and pass back into the esophageal canal. Over time, someone with persistent GERD can go on to develop permanent damage to their esophagus, including a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, where changes to the cells lining the esophagus could potentially become cancerous.
Causes of acid reflux
The number of patients experiencing reflux disease has grown significantly over the last decade. There are various reasons thought to be behind this, but the most prevalent is the increase in the number of people who are overweight or obese, which is a contributing factor in the development of GERD. This is because excess belly fat can place pressure onto the stomach, causing a hiatal hernia to develop. This hernia prevents the lower esophageal sphincter from closing properly, enabling the backflow of acid into the esophagus and triggering an episode of heartburn/acid reflux.
In the initial stages of GERD, patients are recommended to try a number of lifestyle changes to help get their acid reflux under control. This can include losing weight, improving their diet, and giving up smoking. Many patients may also be prescribed medications to help control their symptoms, and these medications usually reduce the amount of stomach acid being produced and/or neutralize stomach acids.
If you can’t obtain sufficient relief from your symptoms by making lifestyle changes and taking prescription medication, you may be referred for laparoscopic anti-reflux surgery.
Laparoscopic anti-reflux surgery
Laparoscopic anti-reflux surgery has been shown to be extremely effective at treating the symptoms of GERD, particularly in the case of patients who have a hiatal hernia. This is because the surgery can be used to fix the hernia and reinforce the lower esophageal sphincter, preventing the backflow of stomach acids from triggering episodes of heartburn.
Laparoscopic surgery involves the instruments being used to perform the procedure being passed through tiny incisions in the abdomen, rather than opening up a large area. A small torch and camera on the end of a long, thin tube are passed into the abdomen, feeding back to a screen so that your surgeon can see what they are doing. Gas is also used to inflate the area to provide room for the procedure to be carried out. At the end of the surgery, the abdomen is deflated and the incisions closed using sutures.
Choosing to have this procedure laparoscopically provides a number of benefits for patients, including:
- Smaller incisions for surgery
- Easier wounds to look after
- Less post-operative pain
- Shorter stay in hospital
- Lower risk of complications
- Less scarring
- Faster healing
Am I a candidate for anti-reflux surgery?
If you have been suffering from GERD for some time and you’ve not been able to see a considerable improvement in your symptoms through lifestyle changes and medication, or if your doctor is concerned about the effect that long-term GERD is having on your health, you may be referred for anti-reflux surgery.
Although laparoscopic surgery is suitable for many people, it’s not necessarily the right solution for everyone. As such, every patient is assessed for anti-reflux surgery on a case by case basis. Good general health is essential, and your surgeon will ask you about your medical history and current medications in order to determine if you are a good candidate for laparoscopic anti-reflux surgery.
For more information, or to schedule an appointment to discuss your candidacy for this procedure, please contact our office.