Procedure offers relief for heartburn sufferers

Brad Baldwin

Modern medicine has helped tame many ailments through the decades. Polio, measles and diabetes are all treatable or at least more bearable thanks to medical advancements. It soon could be possible to add heartburn and other symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) to the list.

A procedure that’s about four years old and has been in the United States for two years is now available in Grand Junction.

“It controls or stops the flow of acid in the stomach back up into the esophagus by installing a valve,” said Brad Baldwin, a doctor who works with Community Hospital in Grand Junction.

A natural valve that normally prevents such backup of acid is sometimes damaged or doesn’t work properly. That’s where Baldwin comes in with a procedure called transoral incisionless fundoplication (TIF).

The doctor uses a scope to take part of existing stomach tissue and bunch it up, making it thick enough to create a functioning valve. The scope is inserted through the throat, negating the need to make any incisions in the abdomen.

Just as a valve at the top of the esophagus closes when people swallow, the valve at the bottom of the esophagus closes to prevent acid from creeping up the tube.

“If you don’t have heartburn, you have the valve,” Baldwin said.

Those who do suffer from heartburn might want to consult with a doctor about the TIF procedure. The same holds true for those who suffer from hoarseness, chronic cough, asthma or burning in the throat or mouth.

About 15 percent of the general population suffers from daily symptoms of GERD, Baldwin said.

“This is an attempt at fixing the cause and getting them off their heartburn medication,” he said.

Following the TIF treatment, nearly 80 percent of patients are able to wean themselves from their medication after two years, Baldwin said. Others are often able to reduce the amount of medication they take for GERD symptoms.

Baldwin said he’s treated about 20 such patients in the past year, but expects that number to increase as word spreads about the procedure.