If you are one of the 20 million Americans who suffer daily from acid reflux, you have probably tried everything, from special diets to sleeping in a sitting position. While people with mild cases manage their acid reflux with antacids, for a large number of people this does not work. The new implant named The Linx might be just what they need: a permanent solution and the freedom to enjoy their food without pain, discomfort and potentially serious consequences.
The new device, called The Linx, is designed as a ring of titanium beads with implanted magnets inside. The device is placed around the damaged or weak muscle between the esophagus and the stomach. The half-hour operation is simple, and is done using a scope and a small “keyhole” incision in the stomach. The implanted ring strengthens the weak muscle in order to keep it closed but sufficiently flexible, so that it can expand to allow food to pass when swallowed. The ring is generally about a half-inch in diameter, but it comes in different sizes and can expand to about 1.5 inches. Once it is implanted, people do not feel it all. The Linx has been approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) about a year ago. It is also sold in Europe.
The Linx device is made by Torax Medical Inc., of St. Paul, Minn. It costs $5,000. Depending on the hospital, the operation to implant the device costs from $12,000 to $20,000. Many medical insurance companies cover it, if the patient can show that he or she had no success in alleviating GERD with standard antacid medicines.
Many doctors who have experience with the Linx claim that the results so far have been impressive. The time will tell how long will it last and whether any side effects will show up.
What is GERD?
GERD is one of many health issues that we can thank our lifestyle for. Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the damage to the valve at the entrance to the stomach, a ring of muscle named the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). In healthy people, this valve closes after the food passes through it, on the way from the esophagus to the stomach. If it doesn’t close completely or if it opens often, stomach acid moves back into the esophagus, causing the familiar burning we know as heartburn. If this happen more than two times a week, it is more than just heartburn. It is GERD or acid reflux disease.
Acid reflux disease is caused by a number of things, but mostly by too much food, obesity, eating too close to going to bed, spicy or fatty foods, acid-producing foods such as onions, tomatoes or citrus, smoking etc.
Acid reflux is initially treated by antacids, such as Tums, Alka-Seltzer or Maalox. Unfortunately, many of them cause side effects such as diarrhea or constipation. The best antacids are those that contain both magnesium hydroxide and aluminum hydroxide.
Other medicines used to combat too much acid are foaming agents such as Gaviscon, which coat the stomach to prevent acid reflux, H2 blockers such as Pepcid, Tagamet or Zantac, which decrease the production of acid, or Proton pump inhibitors such as Prilosec, Prevacid or Nexium, which act to reduce the production of acid in the stomach.
The problem with all current medicines used for the treatment of GERD is that they treat symptoms and not the underlying cause – weak, damaged esophageal valve.
While there is a surgical procedure which can permanently strengthen the esophageal valve, it is used only as a last resort. The Linx device is the first permanent solution to the GERD that does not require serious surgical treatment and promises long term solution.
The New England Journal of Medicine published recently a study of 100 patients who had the Linx implanted, after suffering from the GERD for more than ten years. After the procedure, the amount of acid in their throats was greatly reduced. More than 92 percents claimed that their quality of life greatly improved and in less than one year, 86 percent of them did not need any acid-lowering medications.
The most common side effect was problem swallowing right after the surgery. In most patients that problem disappeared after a year. Only six patients had to have the Linx removed, mostly because swallowing problems continued.