Everyone has heartburn now and then, right? A heavy meal, a night on the town, or a late-night fridge raid can trigger occasional indigestion. But if you’ve been self-treating your heartburn for months or even years, it’s probably more than heartburn.
Dr. Nirav Naik at New Life Medical in Bakersfield, California, specializes in chronic heartburn caused by acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and hiatal hernias, which are often the culprit behind it all. Here, he explains what’s happening in your gut and when and why heartburn surgery may be necessary.
Acid and your esophagus
Because the terms heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD are often used interchangeably, it’s easy to get confused about their meanings. Here’s how they’re different.
Acid reflux is a condition that occurs when the muscle at the bottom of your esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), weakens and doesn’t tighten completely, allowing stomach acid to creep up into the esophagus.
GERD is an advanced form of acid reflux that is chronic rather than occasional. We change your diagnosis from acid reflux to GERD if you experience the symptoms twice a week or more and it’s causing inflammation in your esophagus.
Heartburn isn’t a condition; it’s a symptom of acid reflux and GERD. Despite its name, it has nothing to do with your heart. It got its name because the location of your lower esophagus is near your heart, and when the acid rises from your stomach, it irritates the tissue in that region and causes a burning sensation.
Why acid reflux is a problem
Acid reflux and GERD affect millions of people worldwide and up to 28% of people living in North America. Because most people consider heartburn a normal but unfortunate fact of life, they don’t seek medical attention and simply suffer through the symptoms.
The consequences of ignoring your acid reflux problem is that the acid damages your esophagus and can lead to serious complications, such as:
- Esophagitis: inflammation of the esophagus
- Esophageal stricture: narrowing of the esophagus
- Esophageal ulcers: sores on the lining of your esophagus
- Barrett’s esophagus: changes to the tissue and structure of your esophagus
- Esophageal cancer: cancerous growths in your esophageal tissue
Medical treatment is necessary to avoid these complications.
Heartburn medication vs. surgery
If you chew on antacids to calm your heartburn or take proton pump inhibitor medications such as Prilosec®, Prevacid®, and Nexium® or an H2 blocker such as Tagamet®, you may experience a measure of relief. But you’re only masking the problem.
Americans spend more than $6 billion a year on these medications, and they often misuse them. These medications were developed for temporary relief and were never meant for long-term use. People often take too much of these medications, take them for the wrong reasons, and use them for much longer than they should.
When is heartburn surgery warranted?
Solving your chronic heartburn requires solving the underlying reason you have it. In most cases, the culprit is a hiatal hernia, a bulge in a weakened area of your stomach that pushes through the muscle wall near your diaphragm.
If you have a hiatal hernia, you need surgery to repair the problem, and Dr. Naik is one of the leading surgeons with this procedure. His special training and ongoing research enable him to perform this procedure laparoscopically — using small incisions and a tiny camera — with excellent results.
Another reason to consider heartburn surgery is when your LES is damaged or malfunctioning. The traditional procedure to repair this problem is to wrap the upper portion of the stomach around the LES to create a stronger valve that keeps your stomach contents in place.
Dr. Naik uses a more advanced technology that delivers better results. Called the LINX® Reflux Management System, this procedure uses small magnetic beads that form a ring around your LES. The magnetic ring is strong enough to keep acids in their place but also allow food and drink to pass through when you swallow. Watch a video of the procedure here.
If your heartburn is more than occasional and has been plaguing you for some time, it may be time to think about a surgical solution before it damages your esophagus and your health. To schedule a consultation, call our friendly staff at 661-230-8306 today.