Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD or acid reflux, is a painful condition in which stomach acid or bile creeps up from the stomach into the esophagus. It causes an uncomfortable burning sensation in the chest area—heartburn—and can lead to esophageal ulcers and a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus, which can increase the risk of esophageal cancer.

GERD is often treated with medication, but there are a number of drawbacks to and side effects from commonly used GERD treatments. GERD surgery can be a long-term solution that most patients tolerate well.

Symptoms

The main symptom of GERD is chronic heartburn. The lining of the stomach provides protection against strong stomach acid, but the esophagus has no such protection. Other symptoms can include vomiting or difficulty swallowing.

Causes

GERD occurs when stomach acid or stomach contents back up into the esophagus. The digestive tract is supposed to be one-way: Food enters the mouth, slides down the esophagus and into the stomach, where it is passed to the intestines and, eventually, leaves the body as waste through the anus.

Wrapped around the esophagus is a band of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES keeps the stomach contents in the stomach. In people with GERD, the LES is weak and cannot fully keep stomach contents in the stomach. The result is stomach acid, food or bile coming back up into the esophagus.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase the risk of developing GERD include:

  • Delayed stomach emptying (gastroparesis)
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy

Some common triggers of GERD include:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Eating large meals
  • Eating late at night
  • Fatty food
  • Smoking
  • Some medications (such as aspirin)
  • Spicy food

GERD Surgery

GERD surgery is a safe and well-tolerated treatment method. The most common type of GERD surgery is known as Nissen fundoplication. It is a laparoscopic procedure, meaning the incisions and tools used are very small, and surgeons see into the abdominal cavity with the help of a camera called a laparoscope that is attached to a video monitor.

Nissen fundoplication involves wrapping the LES with a portion of the patient’s stomach. The top part of the stomach (the fundus) is wrapped 360 degrees around the bottom of the esophagus, reinforcing the LES and reducing the likelihood of the stomach contents backing up.

Some patients with severe GERD may be at increased risk for trouble swallowing after a Nissen fundoplication. These patients may benefit more from a Toupet fundoplication. Instead of a complete, 360-degree wrap of the fundus around the esophagus, a Toupet fundoplication involves a partial, 270-degree wrap.

Other GERD Treatments

Surgery is rarely a first option for people living with GERD. Lifestyle changes and medication are more commonly used as first-line treatments. Lifestyle changes such as losing weight and quitting smoking are never a bad idea. People with GERD should also keep a food diary to try to identify—and then avoid—foods that trigger their symptoms.

Medication for GERD includes medicines that reduce the amount of stomach acid produced, such as histamine blockers and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). PPIs are generally acknowledged to be more effective than histamine blockers, but they carry unattractive side effects and risks.

PPIs are possibly associated with increased risk of:

  • Fractures
  • Intestinal infections
  • Kidney disease
  • Stroke
  • Vitamin deficiencies

If you want to avoid the chance of any of these risks, look into GERD surgery. Request an appointment with Advanced Surgeons. We can tell you if you’re a suitable candidate for surgery, and we’ll be with you every step of the way, from initial consultation to recovery and beyond.