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Seminar Explains News Treatment Options and a Permanent Cure for GERD or 'Acid Reflux'

Most likely, you have experienced heartburn on occasion – perhaps after eating a heavy, spicy meal. That burning sensation in your chest can disrupt your sleep, but it’s nothing to worry about. Or is it?

“Frequent heartburn may be a symptom of a more serious condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux,” says Dr. Mary Maish, chief of Thoracic and Foregut Surgery at Washington Hospital. ”Some acid reflux is normal, and almost all people have it occasionally. Heartburn becomes a concern, however, when it is chronic and damages the esophagus. Anyone with frequent heartburn should see a physician to see if testing for GERD is indicated.”

Acid reflux happens when the contents of the stomach back up into the esophagus – the “food pipe” that leads from the throat to the stomach. The acid flows back up into the esophagus because the valve (called a “sphincter”) between the stomach and esophagus isn’t working properly. This can cause symptoms of heartburn, regurgitation, cough, hoarseness and even asthma.

To promote greater awareness of GERD’s potential complications and treatment options for GERD, Washington Hospital will conduct a free seminar featuring Dr. Maish on Tuesday, July 12, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The seminar will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, MD, Auditorium in the Washington West building at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

Serious Complications of GERD

“If left untreated, GERD can lead to more serious complications such as scarring and strictures (narrowing) of the esophagus, which make it difficult to eat and swallow,” says Dr. Maish.

Another serious GERD complication is Barrett’s esophagus, which affects approximately 3.3 million Americans, with a 2 percent risk per year of developing esophageal cancer.

“In Barrett’s esophagus, the cells in the lining of the esophagus change to compensate for the acid,” Dr. Maish explains. “These cells continue to change, becoming precancerous, and perhaps even cancerous. Esophageal cancer is not very common, however, with approximately only 16,000 cases diagnosed each year.”

Dr. Maish notes that GERD can sometimes be caused by a condition called hiatal hernia.

“With a hiatal hernia, part of the stomach slips up into the chest, causing intermittent heartburn symptoms,” she says. “Minimally invasive surgery can be performed laparoscopically to correct a hiatal hernia by anchoring the stomach back down in the abdomen.”

Nonsurgical Treatment Options

In many cases, physicians recommend treating uncomplicated GERD by making a few simple lifestyle changes, such as diet modification and weight loss, which Dr. Maish will discuss at the seminar.

“Lifestyle changes can be hard for some people to maintain over the long term,” Dr. Maish concedes. “For example, many people try to change their diet and lose weight, only to fail time and again. That can be very discouraging. So, in addition to making lifestyle changes, people may need medications to help control GERD. These medications include antacids, H2 blockers that block histamine receptors in the stomach, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which block acid production in the stomach.

“PPI medications are the most effective drugs for treating persistent GERD,” she adds. ”Unfortunately, a collective group of studies indicate that there may be some correlation between use of PPIs and increased risks of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, dementia and osteopenia. If you are concerned about taking a PPI medication, consult your doctor about whether the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks.”

Other Treatments for GERD

While lifestyle changes and medications may help alleviate the symptoms of GERD, they don’t change the function of a loose sphincter between the esophagus and the stomach. Improving the function of this sphincter is important to fixing the symptoms and preventing complications of GERD. At the seminar, Dr. Maish will discuss various procedures for strengthening the esophageal sphincter.

The current standard surgical approach for strengthening the sphincter is called laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication. This minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery strengthens the lower esophageal sphincter by wrapping the upper curve of the stomach (known as the fundus) around the sphincter.

“Laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication offers good results for most people,” says Dr. Maish. “It requires only a one- or two-day stay in the hospital.”

A newer minimally invasive surgical procedure to correct faulty esophageal sphincter function involves inserting a beaded “magnetic bracelet” over the end of the esophagus at the location of the sphincter. This device serves to strengthen the valve and prevent symptoms and complications of GERD.

“The magnetic bracelet, known as the LINX device, wraps around the base of the esophagus to prevent food, acid or bile from going from the stomach back up into the esophagus,” Dr. Maish explains. “The bracelet is a one-way valve that is flexible enough to let food go down, but not back up.”

Dr. Maish is currently one of the very few physicians in the Bay Area placing the LINX magnetic bracelet for GERD.

“The LINX device is extremely effective in treating GERD,” she asserts. “Patients spend less than an hour in the operating room, and many of them are able to go home the same day. The recovery period is only a few days to a week. Most importantly, more than 90 percent of the time, patients who have a LINX device inserted are able to come off all their GERD medications.”

To register for the seminar on July 12 or to learn more about other seminars offered by Washington Hospital, visit and click on the heading for “Events” at the top of the page.

If you need help finding a physician, visit or the Washington Township Medical Foundation website at