Outpatient procedure helps acid reflux sufferers

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - There's nothing like a delicious, hot, spicy meal, but for millions of Americans, acid reflux can be so bad, sufferers feel as though they're having a heart attack.

A little known, minimally invasive procedure promises to help people enjoy all their favorite foods once again.

Pearland husband, father of three and marathon runner BJ Sexton began suffering from gastroesophogeal reflux or GERD when he was in his late twenties.

Sexton told Local 2, "In an extreme case, it was as if someone had held a flame (in his chest) for a few seconds, burned it and then took it away and it just had that leftover burning sensation, just real painful. I tried just about everything I could to not be in pain."

He added, "I love Mexican food and I used to it it at least once and week and there was a point in this process where I would go six or nine months without eating Mexican food."

He tried avoiding his favorite foods, sleeping slightly upright and several medications.

Sexton said, "Just knowing that you would take a pill forever, for me (in my) early thirties, was just not very acceptable."

An engineer, BJ did his research and found out about a little known outpatient procedure to treat GERD called Stretta.

Dr. Brian Dunkin, chief of surgical endoscopy at Houston Methodist hospital, told Local 2, "Patients I've treated are usually back to regular food within a week."

GERD affects some 20 million people on a weekly basis.

Dunkin said, "It's a tremendously common problem. Unfortunately, all the good things in life cause reflux: alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, all those types of things (and) fatty foods."

He explained where the problem starts.

Dunkin said, "There's a valve between our esophagus and our stomach, a one way valve that is supposed to let what we eat or drink pass into the stomach but then close so that it doesn't wash back into our esophagus. That's the valve that's malfunctioning in reflux. It's opening when it's not supposed to."

Medicines can help, but some patients, especially women, are concerned about long term use leading to osteoporosis.

Another option is anti reflux surgery where a new valve is created.

While effective, it is invasive and aggressive. Somewhere in the middle, is the Stretta procedure.

Dunkin explained, "It's an outpatient endoscopy procedure. It's done under sedation, not general anesthesia. You go home later that day and usually within a week, you're eating regular food again."

Dunkin uses a catheter with tiny wires on the end to zap the problem area. No incisions, no scars.

Dunkin added, "It's meant to cause the collagen in the tissue to contract and so that tightens the sphincter and it makes it less likely to open when pressure is against it."

According to the manufacturer, nearly 90 percent of Stretta patients say after their procedure, they were able to kick their medication for good.

Within a week, BJ said he was back to enjoying his favorite foods.

BJ smiled, "(I am) very happy, very happy. I love Mexican food, so it was really good."

Dunkin said more insurance companies are covering the Stretta procedure as long term data show it gives patients relief while reducing their dependence on pricey medicines.

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