Chronic Heartburn: What You Need to Know

By Rhonda Mann




Peter McConarty had been having weeks of chest symptoms—so much so, he visited the hospital 3 times.


“I was getting lots of pain that ran down both my arms,“ says the civil engineer from Pembroke.  “I thought I was maybe having a heart attack.”


When doctors ruled out heart trouble, they diagnosed Peter with severe and persistent form of heartburn called Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease or GERD.


“Heartburn is caused by stomach contents regurgitating back into the esophagus,” says Dr. Ram Chuttani, Chief of Interventional Gastroenterology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.  “Some people can have this a couple of times a month and it’s easily treated with over-the-counter medications. But persistent reflux over several years can be dangerous.”


In fact, if left untreated, GERD can cause a number of serious complications including Barrett’s Esophagus, a condition which can lead to esophageal cancer. Other problems of chronic reflux include asthma, bronchitis, laryngitis, tooth decay and chronic sinusitis.


“GERD can affect a patient’s productivity — their employment and their ability to function daily so it’s very important to control gastroesophageal reflux disease,” says Dr. Douglas Pleskow, co-director of Endoscopy at BIDMC.


Reflux disease usually results from a weakened or damaged sphincter, or valve-like muscle, located where the esophagus meets the stomach, which normally keeps the acid down.  For most people, medications can control symptoms and keep the disease in check. Changing diet can also help.


But for others, more invasive treatments may be needed.  The most common surgical procedure is known as Nissen Fundoplication. Now performed laproscopically, surgeons make five or six pencil-width size incisions to grab the upper part of the stomach and wrap it around the lower part of the esophagus creating pressure to keep stomach contents down. Patients are usually in the hospital for one or two days, and recover in a couple of weeks.


A newer option is the LINX procedure, in which surgeons laproscopically place a small bracelet of magnets around the lower esophageal sphincter to strengthen it.


“For most people, the procedure makes a big impact on their quality of life,” says Dr. Chuttani.


Chuttani and his team are working to bring two other promising technologies to BIDMC later this year.


To learn more about heartburn and the Division of Gastroenterology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, click here.



Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.