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Surgery with a string of magnets, a new method to fight severe heartburn

March 5, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
A string of magnets could solve a problem plaguing 20 million Americans. But how do magnets help people with heartburn? Here's how the new device works.

Chronic heartburn, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), keeps millions of Americans from enjoying the foods they love. It can also lead to a dangerous form of cancer. Now doctors are using magnets to treat heartburn and it's attracting a lot of patients.

Severe heartburn, known as GERD, happens when acids leak up from the stomach into the esophagus. The only treatments are drugs that offer short-term relief, or a surgery where doctors knot the stomach around the esophagus.

Now there's a magnetic device that stops acid reflux in its tracks. In a 20-minute procedure, surgeons place the device around the bottom of the esophagus. Magnetic attraction between the beads helps the esophagus open up when food goes down, then close tightly so acid can't find its way up.

"And then when food tries to come back up, it's closed, so nothing comes back up, but things can go through," said Dr. Santiago Horgan, a professor of surgery at UC San Diego Health System.

After the procedure, patients can eat what they want right away. Doctors say the procedure is simple to perform and there are no dietary restrictions afterward.

In January, an expert panel voted to recommend the LINX Reflux Management System for Food and Drug Administration approval. The makers expect it to be formally approved very soon.