image002Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, also known as GERD, impacts approximately 30 to 40% of American adults. Normally, upon swallowing, a valve between the esophagus and stomach opens to allow food to pass, and then closes to prevent stomach contents from refluxing back into the esophagus. For people who suffer from GERD, a dysfunction in the valve allows stomach acid to pass back into the esophagus, or “reflux,” which causes a burning sensation in the chest.

Acid Reflux and GERD may be painful and disruptive, but are not necessarily life threatening issues. Initial treatment options include stomach medications, weight loss, elevation of the upper body while sleeping, and diet alterations.

But GERD can be potentially dangerous if longterm severe heartburn eventually causes a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, in which the lining of esophagus changes. While Barrett’s is not a cancerous condition in and of itself, it may increase risk for cancer.

If a patient has developed Barrett’s, or is unable to find relief from lifestyle modifications or medications, surgery may be recommended. A minimally invasive procedure called Laparoscopic Nissen Fundoplication, which recreates and strengthens the valve between the stomach and esophagus, brings lasting relief to many patients.

Premier Surgical general surgeon David J. Harrell MD FACS explains, “Essentially, the procedure wraps the upper part of the stomach around the lower part of the esophagus, which recreates a strengthened valve. Acid is much less likely to travel back up into the esophagus.”

During the procedure, the surgeon makes small keyhole incisions in the abdomen through which the tiny laparoscopic camera and instruments may be inserted. As with most abdominal surgeries, carbon dioxide is used to inflate the abdomen to allow for better viewing and more room for the surgeon to perform the actual procedure. Typically, the procedure requires just one night in the hospital.

Post surgery, the patient will follow a liquid or soft diet for several weeks, which gives their esophagus time to recover. Most patients are able to return to work and normal activity within 2 to 4 weeks. According to Dr. Harrell, some patients get 10 years or more of relief, but most enjoy permanent relief.

Dr. Harrell says, “GERD can be insidious, many patients don’t realize how bad it’s become because it comes on slowly. But when a person can’t sleep, and wakes up gagging and choking on stomach acid, it affects their quality of life, (which spills over into their spouse’s quality of life). Most people are very happy with the results and wish they had done it sooner.”

Premier Surgical Associates is the largest surgical group in the Knoxville region, providing comprehensive surgical care, with referrals from across the entire East Tennessee Region. If you’ve been suffering from acid reflux, learn more about how to find relief on the Acid Reflux page of our Premier Surgical Associates website.