(JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) -- For one in three Americans suffering from chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease, or acid reflux, a string of magnetic beads may bring relief.
According to a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors wrapped the bracelet-like device around the valve between the esophagus and the stomach, keeping it closed when a person is not eating or drinking.
Acid reflux stems from complications with a deficient sphincter valve, a ring of muscle located at the bottom of the esophagus and the top of the stomach. This muscle normally stays constricted when a person is not eating, preventing acid and other digestive fluids from leaving the stomach and entering the esophagus.
After testing the device on 100 patients with chronic acid reflux, 92 patients reported symptom relief. Eighty-seven trial patients were able to quit acid-suppressing drugs.
Dr. C. Daniel Smith, chair of surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Florida and co-author of the study, says he thinks the new device is "going to be a game changer" and provides another option for physicians and the patients managing reflux.
"I think It's going to be an option for a lot of patients that today have just been suffering with medicine, with incomplete control of their symptoms," he says.
According to Smith, acid reflux not only causes pain for millions of Americans (roughly one in three people are affected in the U.S., according to the American Gastroesophageal Association), it can be life-threatening.
"And then at the more extreme end of reflux, you can get damage to the esophagus that leads to what we call Barret's esophagus; and that's a pre-cancerous condition that can eventually lead to esophageal cancer," Smith explains.
The study authors note this is the "first new, safe and effective treatment" for managing the painful disease in 20 years, but Smith cautions against using the device for mild cases.
"It is really not for the patient who has just occasional heartburn and needs to take an antacid once in a while. It's really more for patients who have chronic heartburn and are dependent on medicine on a daily basis."
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