Implant offers heartburn relief to patients

Maxie Inman says he is enjoying a wider variety of foods since he had the LINX device implanted.

For the first time since his teenage years, 75-year-old Maxie Inman isn’t having heartburn.

Inman was one of the first seven patients with chronic heartburn to have undergone a new treatment at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The treatment involves the implanting of a tiny magnetic bracelet at the lower esophageal sphincter, a circular band of muscle that closes the last few centimeters of the esophagus and prevents the backward flow of stomach contents.

Inman had a trying recovery that involved chest pain, constant hunger and nausea, but he now is much better.

“I’m in hog heaven as far as food is concerned,” says Inman, who lives in Surfside Beach. “I can eat anything I want.”

Inman started having minor acid reflux as a teenager, and it progressed throughout his life.

“After I ate barbecue pork, I’d have heartburn and have to take Tums. This followed me all along until the 1980s, when it was getting so bad that I went to the doctor for prescription antacid medication.”

Five years ago, though, Inman developed a persistent cough and later extremely dry mouth, which didn’t get better even after his doctor quadrupled his antacid medication. That’s when he was referred to MUSC, where he fit the conditions to have the bracelet, called the LINX Reflux Management System, implanted.

In March 2012, the Food and Drug Administration approved LINX for people diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, who continue to have chronic symptoms despite the use of maximum medical therapy for the treatment of reflux.

The disease is a condition in which food or liquid in the stomach flows back into the esophagus. This can irritate the esophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms. Meanwhile, chronic acid reflux can raise the risk of a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which, in turn, can raise the risk of throat cancer.

Patients with GERD first are advised to make dietary and lifestyle changes such as losing weight, eating smaller meals and avoiding certain types of foods, including fatty or fried foods, tomato sauce, alcohol, garlic, onion and caffeine, that may trigger symptoms.

Surgical treatment usually is reserved for people who have severe symptoms such as chronic GERD or a large hiatal hernia, a condition in which part of the stomach pushes upward through the diaphragm. Surgery is also an option for those who, for whatever reason, are not helped by recommended medical therapy or who want to avoid a lifetime of medical therapy.

Dr. David Adams of MUSC implanted his first LINX in September and has performed seven of the surgeries since then. Adams says it will provide a welcome alternative for chronic heartburn sufferers.

However, Adams notes that the LINX can’t be used for those with a weak esophagus or with precancerous changes to it, or for the morbidly obese.

Adams says heartburn and GERD are epidemic and, frankly, that a lot of it is due to lifestyle: eating too fast, being overweight and using coffee and tobacco.

Of the 19 million or so Americans who have all different kinds of heartburn, Adams says he estimates the number of candidates eligible for the LINX procedure at about 500,000.

He says the surgery costs about $10,000, but that it’s generally covered by insurance. An Associated Press story quoted prices of $5,000 for the device and $12,000 to $20,00 for the operation, depending on hospital charges.