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Magnetic device offers relief from severe heartburn

Experts say experimental treatment is attractive alternative for many

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Chronic heartburn, also known as GERD, keeps millions of Americans from enjoying the foods they love.   It can also lead to a dangerous form of cancer.  

A new treatment may offer an attractive alternative to drugs or major surgery for people searching for relief.   It's a magnetic device called the LINX Reflux Management System.  It looks like a small bracelet of magnetic beads made of titanium.

In a 20-minute procedure, surgeons place the device around the bottom of the esophagus. Magnetic attraction between the beads helps the esophagus open up when food goes down, then close tightly so acid can't find its way up.

Dr. Santiago Horgan is the Chief of Minimally Invasive Surgery at UC San Diego Health System.  He is one of the surgeons leading a trial to test the device.  Horgan said he initially worried patients would be concerned about having magnets around their esophagus, but that hasn't been an issue.

"Patients do want this device. It became cool to be part of this trial because it is so advanced in technology. These are not simple magnets. These are rare magnets that are tailored to have certain strength," said Horgan.

After the LINX procedure, patients can eat what they want right away.  With the traditional surgery, patients are required to follow a special diet for six weeks.

Horgan said the major downside is patients who have the magnetic device cannot undergo MRIs. 

"Most of the patients today we can study with CT scans. But, a few have some diseases that require MRIs all the time, and then you cannot have this device."

The LINX is still in clinical trials in the United States, but an FDA advisory committee unanimously voted the device was safe and effective for treating GERD that does not respond to medication.  That decision moved it one step closer to winning FDA approval.

Horgan said there is already interest among friends and relatives of those who have participated in the clinical trial.

"These patients now have family members and friends that want the operation. Of course, because it is a trial, we cannot, but hopefully, we will get FDA approval soon, and this device will be on the market hopefully soon," said Horgan.

To visit the manufacturer's website, click here.

To learn more about the device, click here.