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Esophageal reflux – also known as acid reflux, heartburn, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – is a common condition caused by stomach acid abnormally rising up into the esophagus.
Chronic esophageal reflux can lead to damage of the esophageal lining – creating ulcerations, bleeding, narrowing (stricture), swallowing problems, and Barrett’s esophagus – and can ultimately develop into esophageal cancer.
Our group of thoracic surgeons works closely with UT Southwestern’s interventional and motility specialty gastroenterologists and gastrointestinal radiologists to deliver multidisciplinary comprehensive care – all in one location, and usually on the same day.
We offer advanced minimally invasive and robotic procedures to treat esophageal reflux disease that has not responded to medication and lifestyle changes. Even when patients have had prior surgery, our team attempts to perform surgical procedures through small incisions to prevent or reduce reflux from occurring.
Esophageal reflux occurs as a result of the disturbance of the normal anatomy and physiology at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach, allowing stomach acid to back up into the esophagus. Symptoms of esophageal reflux include:
- Chest pain
- Chronic cough
- Dental problems
- Laryngitis or sore throat
- Swallowing problems
- Recurrent pneumonia
Contributing factors include advancing age, obesity, giving birth numerous times, smoking, coffee/caffeine and chocolate consumption, chronic consumption of large meals especially prior to bedtime, and a family history of heartburn or reflux.
Initial efforts to treat esophageal reflux focus on stopping the movement of stomach contents up into the esophagus, reducing the stomach acid secretion, and improving the emptying of the esophagus and stomach.
After a thorough history and physical examination, along with a review of the available data, nearly all patients are treated successfully with lifestyle changes and medications.
For those patients who fail initial treatment, further evaluation is necessary to better understand the degree of reflux and to select the best therapy. The following studies are often performed:
- Barium swallow study, to assess the anatomy and function of the esophagus
- Endoscopy or esophagogastroduodenoscopy, to visualize the lining of the esophagus
- Esophageal manometry, to evaluate the function of the esophageal muscle
- pH study, a measure of the degree of acid moving up to the esophagus
Our specialized team of thoracic surgeons, gastroenterologists, and radiologists works together to recommend the best treatment for each patient. Treatment options might include:
- Endoscopic esophageal interventions
- Minimally invasive or robotic fundoplication, or repair of hiatal hernias (Nissen, Toupet, Dor, Belsey)
- Minimally invasive cutting-edge techniques to reduce or eliminate reflux disease (LINX)
In addition to standard treatments for esophageal reflux, UT Southwestern provides access to the most promising new therapies through clinical trials. Talk with your doctor to see if a clinical trial may be right for you.