Got GERD? A Magnetic Implant May Help

For the more than 20 percent of the population that suffers from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), eating a normal meal can be painful.

GERD occurs when a structural defect in the lower esophageal sphincter enables stomach acid to work its way out of the stomach and up into the throat, causing pain and burning after eating. But a team of scientists at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine has discovered a possible cure for the problem.

The study team implanted 100 GERD sufferers with an FDA-approved device called the LINX system. Made up of titanium beads, each with a magnetic center, the LINX device works to close the esophageal opening that allows acid to back up but is flexible enough that it doesn't interfere with swallowing. The researchers found that nearly two-thirds of GERD patients experienced a significant reduction in—or complete absence of—reflux symptoms using the LINX system, with every single participant reporting that severe reflux disappeared. Also, 93 percent of the subjects were able to reduce their use of proton-pump inhibitors, medication commonly prescribed as the first line of defense against GERD. Ninety-two percent saw an improvement in their quality of life.

While GERD can be a minor inconvenience to some, it's not without risks for many sufferers. Reflux can injure the lining of the esophagus and make sufferers more prone to esophageal disorders down the line and serious conditions like Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer. GERD also can interfere with sleep and prevent people from indulging in certain foods or food groups. Proton-pump inhibitors aren't problem-free either since they may prevent calcium from being absorbed into the body, upping the risk of fractures. Some studies also point to a greater risk of contracting pneumonia in proton-pump inhibitor users.

For GERD sufferers who don't get enough relief with drugs, the magnetic LINX device may be a better option than a technique called Nissen fundoplication, in which doctors wrap the stomach around the esophagus to prevent regurgitation. The LINX device, by contrast, enables the stomach to be left as is.

Are there risks involved in using the LINX device? The study team found that 68 percent of patients had some trouble swallowing shortly after implantation. By one year after surgery, only 11 percent still experienced this difficulty, and just 4 percent after three years. Only a handful of study subjects experienced complications that warranted the removal of the LINX device.

Further studies are warranted in order to determine which patients might benefit from this kind of therapy, according to Sanjay Jagannath, MD, a gastroenterologist at The Institute for Digestive Health and Liver Disease at Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore, as surgery is not right for everyone with reflux.

Sanjay Jagannath, MD, reviewed this article.



University of California San Diego School of Medicine. "Study Shows Effectiveness of Magnetic Device for Treatment of Reflux Disease." 22 February 2013.

Ganz RA, Peters, JH, Horgan S, Bemelman W, Dunst C, Edmundowicz S, Lipham J, Luketich J, Melvin WS, Oelschlager BK, Schlack-Haerer SC, et al. (2013) Esophageal Sphincter Device for Gastroesophageal Reflux. New England Journal of Medicine (368) 719-727.