Laparoscopic Fundoplication

How heartburn and GERD occur?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into the tube connecting your mouth and stomach (esophagus). This backwash (acid reflux) can irritate the lining of your esophagus.

Many people experience acid reflux from time to time. GERD is mild acid reflux that occurs at least twice a week, or moderate to severe acid reflux that occurs at least once a week.

Most people can manage the discomfort of GERD with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. But some people with GERD may need stronger medications or surgery to ease symptoms.

Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of GERD include:

  • A burning sensation in your chest (heartburn), usually after eating, which might be worse at night
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Regurgitation of food or sour liquid
  • Sensation of a lump in your throat

If you have nighttime acid reflux, you might also experience:

  • Chronic cough
  • Laryngitis
  • New or worsening asthma
  • Disrupted sleep

When to see a doctor

Seek immediate medical care if you have chest pain, especially if you also have shortness of breath, or jaw or arm pain. These may be signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you:

  • Experience severe or frequent GERD symptoms Take over-the-counter medications for heartburn more than twice a week

Causes

GERD is caused by frequent acid reflux.

When you swallow, a circular band of muscle around the bottom of your esophagus (lower esophageal sphincter) relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow into your stomach. Then the sphincter closes again.

If the sphincter relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can flow back up into your esophagus. This constant backwash of acid irritates the lining of your esophagus, often causing it to become inflamed.

Risk factors

Conditions that can increase your risk of GERD include:

  • Obesity
  • Bulging of the top of the stomach up into the diaphragm (hiatal hernia)
  • Pregnancy
  • Connective tissue disorders, such as scleroderma
  • Delayed stomach emptying

Factors that can aggravate acid reflux include:

  • Smoking
  • Eating large meals or eating late at night
  • Eating certain foods (triggers) such as fatty or fried foods
  • Drinking certain beverages, such as alcohol or coffee
  • Taking certain medications, such as aspirin

Complications

Over time, chronic inflammation in your esophagus can cause:

  • Narrowing of the esophagus (esophageal stricture). Damage to the lower esophagus from stomach acid causes scar tissue to form. The scar tissue narrows the food pathway, leading to problems with swallowing.
  • An open sore in the esophagus (esophageal ulcer). Stomach acid can wear away tissue in the esophagus, causing an open sore to form. An esophageal ulcer can bleed, cause pain and make swallowing difficult.
  • Precancerous changes to the esophagus (Barrett's esophagus). Damage from acid can cause changes in the tissue lining the lower esophagus. These changes are associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer.

Diagnosis

Your doctor might be able to diagnose GERD based on a physical examination and history of your signs and symptoms.

  • Upper GI endoscopy is recommended for helping diagnosis. However in a lot of situations the test might be negative even though the patient might be having reflux.
  • 24 hour esophageal ambulatory pH monitoring is the investigation of choice and should be performed if other test are negative and there is a strong suspicion of reflux. This requires 24 hour hospital stay.
  • Esophageal manometry. This test measures the rhythmic muscle contractions in your esophagus when you swallow. Esophageal manometry also measures the coordination and force exerted by the muscles of your esophagus.

Treatment

Your doctor is likely to recommend that you first try lifestyle modifications and over-the-counter medications. If you don't experience relief within a few weeks, your doctor might recommend prescription medication or surgery.

Over-the-counter medications

The options include:

  • Antacids that neutralize stomach acid. Antacids, such as Mylanta, Rolaids and Tums, may provide quick relief. But antacids alone won't heal an inflamed esophagus damaged by stomach acid. Overuse of some antacids can cause side effects, such as diarrhea or sometimes kidney problems.
  • H2 blockers. These medications include cimetidine, famotidine, and ranitidine, don't act as quickly as antacids, but they provide longer relief and may decrease acid production from the stomach for up to 12 hours.
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors. These medications are stronger acid blockers than H-2-receptor blockers and allow time for damaged esophageal tissue to heal. Examples include Omeprazole, Lanzoprazole, Pantoprazole etc.
  • Medication to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter. Baclofen may ease GERD by decreasing the frequency of relaxations of the lower esophageal sphincter. Side effects might include fatigue or nausea.

Surgery and other procedures

GERD can usually be controlled with medication. But if medications don't help or you wish to avoid long-term medication use, your doctor might recommend surgery, which is referred to as Fundoplication. The surgeon wraps the top of your stomach around the lower esophageal sphincter, to tighten the muscle and prevent reflux. Fundoplication is usually done with a minimally invasive (laparoscopic) procedure. The wrapping of the top part of the stomach can be partial or complete. Patient would need to stay in the hospital for 1 to 2 days and returns to work in 5 to 7 days.