GERD: Another Complication of Obesity

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Weight-Loss Surgery

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can result from obesity. Gastric Bypass surgery can eliminate both.

At 324 pounds, Angela Kleiman, 37, was at risk for a number of obesity-related conditions, but the one that caused the greatest discomfort for the busy mother of five was GERD.

“Ten minutes after eating, I’d feel this unbearable burning and pain in my chest along with nausea,” says Angela.

The symptoms started just before she discovered she was pregnant with her fifth child. With limited treatment options until after her delivery, she did everything she could just to minimize the pain. Unfortunately, her condition worsened. She often slept in a recliner to keep her upper body elevated, and to prevent the backflow of food and stomach acid into her throat.

“The reflux was much worse when I would lay down. I’d sometimes wake up choking at night,” says Angela.

Real Facts

GERD is a frequent consequence of obesity, with nearly three out of four morbidly obese people experiencing symptoms.

The problem, according to Michael Russo, M.D., bariatric and digestive disorder surgeon at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, is mechanical. “Extra abdominal weight creates pressure on the stomach and may overwhelm the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the one-way valve that normally directs food from the esophagus into the stomach. When this valve is compromised, partially digested food and stomach acid flow back into the esophagus, which causes burning pain and nausea. The pain can be so severe that some patients think they’re having a heart attack.”

If left untreated, GERD can lead to chronic inflammation, esophageal ulcers, and even cancer of the esophagus or larynx.

Fortunately, there’s a minimally invasive procedure that not only helps morbidly obese patients lose, on average, 80 percent of their excess weight, but immediately eliminates all symptoms of GERD in 97-to-98 percent of patients.

Gastric Bypass

On September 6, 2016, Dr. Russo performed Angela’s gastric bypass procedure. After gastric bypass, patients like Angela can expect to eat less and feel full faster while absorbing less calories.

Best of all, when Angela awoke from the surgery, all of her GERD symptoms were gone. She remained in the hospital overnight and adhered to a liquid diet for three weeks after surgery. Within six weeks, she was fully recovered and eating solid food. By the time she celebrated the New Year, she was nearly 60 pounds lighter and feeling better than she had in years.

“Many people don’t realize that reflux is so closely related to carrying excess weight,” says Dr. Russo. “They think they need a higher dose of anti-reflux medicine, but what they actually need is the bariatric surgery. Gastric Bypass has been around for 40 years. It cures almost all reflux and gives you a higher quality of life at a healthy new weight.”

Clinical Experts

The MemorialCare Center for Obesity at Orange Coast Memorial, where Angela’s gastric bypass was performed, is recognized as a Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence for its expertise in guiding patients from initial assessment and education, through insurance approval, surgery and, ultimately, to successful weight loss and maintenance.

For patients who suffer from GERD, but are not obese, the Center for Digestive Disorders offers numerous non-surgical and surgical options, including laparoscopic Nissan Fundoplication – a surgery with a long and successful track record – and the advanced LINX procedure in which a ring of magnetic beads is implanted around the LES to help keep it closed after food has passed into the stomach.

For more information on GERD and weight-loss surgery, please call (714) 378-7664 or visit MemorialCare.org/OCdigestivecare.