NEW ORLEANS -- Heartburn is much more than temporary discomfort. Chronic acid reflux can drive asthma, a chronic cough, breathing problems and even cancer.
Now a new quick procedure to get rid of it permanently has come to this area.
Melanie Verdin hasn't had a good night's sleep in years.
"The worst part is when I go to bed at night, no matter what time I ate last, as soon as I lay down, it's coming up on me," said Verdin.
Always feeling full and miserable, she got short-term relief from Tums and sleeping more upright.
Then LSU Health Sciences Center gastroenterologist Dr. Gary Reiss diagnosed gastroesophageal reflux disease, called GERD.
"(It's caused by) contents that are supposed to stay in the stomach, not reflux or travel up into the esophagus. Your risk of esophageal cancer is about 20 fold compared to the average population if you have uncontrolled reflux. It's a serious condition," Dr. Reiss said.
In the past, GERD patients could have invasive surgery to fix that leaky valve between the stomach and the esophagus, or cope by taking acid suppression medications or by losing weight and cutting down on spicy foods and alcohol.
"Unfortunately in Southern Louisiana, it's not that that easy to tell people to avoid Tobacco and no red gravies, no boiled crab, no gumbo, you know you can't just, it's easy to say these things. It's hard to do," said Dr. Reiss.
But now a quick procedure, FDA approved just more than 10 years ago, is being done for the first time in this area, at West Jefferson Medical Center. It's called "Stretta."
A scope goes down the esophagus to that weak valve and heats it with radio frequency, stimulating the muscle to grow overtime. It takes 30 minutes or so under sedation in the operating room.
Patients leave in a few hours and are back at work the next day.
Within a couple of months, patients start to get relief from their symptoms, and then within that next year, that weak muscle thickens and strengthens.
"It looks like the effect is permanent, which is spectacular," said Dr. Reiss, referring to the current studies.
Many patients are no longer on medications. And just eight weeks post op, Melanie is changed.
"Much better. I mean I can eat, you know. I can drink. I used to love drinking my tea at night. Now I could drink it, you know, at 8 o'clock. Don't have to worry. Oh yeah, don't have to sleep sitting up," Verdin said happily.
Most insurance companies will pay for the Stretta procedure here in Southeast Louisiana.