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Alternative treatments for GERD show promise

March 17, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD is caused when acid escapes from your stomach and travels back up your esophagus. The acid can travel as far back as your throat. If left untreated it can lead to changes that can turn into cancer. One local man battled acid reflux for more than 20 years.Eating a piece of chocolate was impossible for 57-year-old Steve McKee two years ago.

"For periods of time I just couldn't eat chocolate at all," said McKee. "Chocolate is terrible for you if you have acid reflux."

McKee's digestive track was a two way street. A weakened esophageal valve would allow acid and other materials to travel back up from his stomach. Approximately 15 percent of Americans deal with this type of heart burn regularly.

"Every meal was an adventure because you didn't know whether after that particular meal if you might suffer symptoms of reflux or very bad indigestion," said McKee.

Fried food, spicy sauces, soda and chocolate are just some of the things millions of Americans can't indulge in because they exacerbate acid reflux, and often medication doesn't do the trick.

"Surgery is more effective because it actually corrects the anatomical problem. It doesn't just pacify the symptoms," said Dr. Mary Maish, UCLA Center for Esophageal Disorders.

Dr. Maish says new research shows a stomach wrap or a fundoplication is more effective than heartburn medications to treat severe acid reflux.

Through five tiny incisions, Dr. Maish is able to surgically enter the area where the esophagus meets the stomach.

"This allows us to take that part of the stomach and push it behind the esophagus and wrap it all the way around so that creates a 360 degree wrap," said Dr. Maish.

For McKee the procedure was a lifesaver because chronic heartburn was causing precancerous changes in his esophagus. With his newly created valve the damage was reversed.

And now that he can have chocolate, he says life is much more enjoyable.

"Well that and being able to drink cabernet has made my life complete," said McKee.

Following the fundoplication procedure, patients are asked not to eat any solid foods for about six weeks. After that they can eat anything they want within reason.