GONZALES, LA (WAFB) - We all experience occasional heartburn, but when it happens every day there may be a bigger problem. Some south Louisiana patients swear by a procedure called Stretta for relief from chronic heartburn.
Keri Mayeaux has been dealing with the pain of acid reflux for the last ten years. It's been seven for Jacqueline Allen. Both women described a constant burning sensation in their esophagus and trouble sleeping. The triggers are hard to avoid.
"It was 24/7, and it's miserable," Allen said. "I shouldn't have chocolate, coffee, anything spicy, no alcohol. Cereal and salads with no dressing was all I could eat."
"I was taking Prevacid in the morning, Protonix at night, and then over-the-counter during the day, and still had heartburn," Mayeaux explained. "Now I'm screaming at the rooftops to tell people about the procedure."
There's growing suspicion that many of those common acid-reducers known as Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) could lead to more serious problems. They include Prilosec, Prevacid, Protonix, and Nexium, and they work by reducing the amount of acid in the stomach.
Studies have linked long-term, daily use of PPIs to an increased risk for dementia, heart attack, kidney disease, osteoporosis, vitamin deficiencies, and infection. The studies, however, are observational and cannot determine the cause for the findings. Some point to the fact that GERD patients are more likely to be overweight or obese, smokers, and on several medications at once.
"People are really coming in wanting to get off those medicines, and Stretta is a good option," said gastroenterologist Dr. Elizabeth Bollinger.
There's no cutting and only mild sedation in this outpatient procedure. The doctor uses a scope to reach the muscle where the esophagus meets the stomach. Radiofrequency waves are applied to that muscle, which stimulates it to grow. The process only takes about 30 minutes, and patients go home the same day.
"Over time – three months, six months – that muscle gets thicker and stronger and then does its job to keep everything in the stomach," Bollinger explained.
She said the positive effects of Stretta have been shown to last 10-15 years in many patients, helping them kick their daily meds and live normal lives.
"It's just been phenomenal," said Mayeax, who had the surgery six weeks ago. "I've been eaten and drinking everything that I could possibly try just to see."
It's been four months for Allen, who said she's now able to sleep much better.
"Medication really wasn't helping anymore. I just wanted relief, and I just didn't think I would ever find any," she said.
Stretta has been so successful at St. Elizabeth hospital in Gonzales that Dr. Rahil Shah is also now offering the procedure. The cost is around $4,000, but
Stretta is covered by most insurance companies, including Medicare and Medicaid.
Symptoms of GERD can often be eased through diet and exercise.
H2 blockers also reduce stomach acid and provide relief for occasional heartburn. They include Pepcid, Zantac, and Tagamet.
CLICK HERE for more information, or call St. Elizabeth physicians at (225) 743-2545.
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