Bracelet-Like Device Controls Chronic Acid Reflux

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A bracelet-like device with magnetic beads can control the chronic digestive disorder gastroesophageal reflux disease, according to a study published online this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The device encircles the valve at the junction of the esophagus and stomach and helps it stay closed when a person is not eating or drinking. It eased symptoms in 92 of 100 patients with chronic acid reflux and allowed 87 percent of patients to stop using acid-suppressing drugs, third-year results from the five-year study showed. Ninety four percent of patients were satisfied with the treatment.

The advance is significant, said study co-author C. Daniel Smith, MD, chair of the Surgery Department at Mayo Clinic in Florida and a specialist in treating reflux disease. Mayo Clinic is the only medical center in Florida and one of two in the Southeast to help study the device. Mayo Clinic in Arizona also offers treatment with the device.

“This is the first new, safe and effective treatment we have to treat reflux disease in 20 years," Dr. Smith said. “The device is simple, elegant and functional, and it provides an opportunity to help a very large number of patients. The only treatment options in the past have been acid-suppressing agents or surgery. Acid-suppressing agents don’t directly address the underlying ineffective valve, leaving patients with persistent symptoms; surgery can lead to distressing side effects of bloating and inability to vomit in 20 percent of patients. These side effects occurred rarely with this new device."

Roughly 1 in 3 people in the United States have the chronic condition, the American Gastroenterological Association estimates. It can lead to serious health problems.

Acid reflux stems from a deficient or incompetent sphincter valve located at the bottom of the esophagus and the top of the stomach. The sphincter, a ring of muscle, normally stays constricted when a person is not eating; that prevents acid and other digestive juice from leaving the stomach and entering the esophagus.

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