Dr. Roberts says goodbye to chronic heartburn

Dr. Jeff Roberts is a huge fan of mixed martial arts, but for 35 years he was in constant combat with his own body, fighting to keep his GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, under control.

He wasn’t alone. More than 30 million people in the U.S. suffer varying degrees of the same condition.

BLOW TO THE CHEST

The organs involved in the breakdown of food are collectively known as the digestive system. The gastrointestinal – or GI – tract is a continuous tube from the mouth to the anus. Food travels from the mouth, down a food pipe called the esophagus and into the stomach. For most, food continues its travel down the GI tract in one direction. But for patients like Dr. Roberts, the stomach’s contents reflux, or return, back up into the esophagus. The effects can range from mild heartburn to debilitating pain, chronic inflammation, ulcers, and even esophageal cancer.

“I found myself as the patient,” says Dr. Roberts, an otolaryngologist, and head and neck surgeon. “There were times that the pain from GERD was so severe, I thought I might be having a heart attack.”

The problem began in Dr. Roberts’ mid-twenties with indigestion and heartburn after eating. He carefully followed all of the lifestyle recommendations – avoiding fried, spicy and acidic foods, like tomatoes and citrus, as well as caffeine and carbonated drinks. He ate slowly, consumed small portions and didn’t eat anything at all in the three hours prior to sleep. He slept with his head and shoulders elevated and, for relief, he consumed antacids and other over-the-counter medications on a regular basis.

“I was taking prescription anti-reflux medication at twice the normal dose and still had poor symptom control,” recalls Dr. Roberts.

Over the years, his symptoms intensified and became more difficult to control. By his late 40s, the burning was so severe and unrelenting that he underwent an upper endoscopy, or a visual examination of the esophagus achieved by threading a thin, flexible tube with a tiny light and camera down the patient’s throat. He also had a biopsy of his esophageal tissue and was diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, a serious pre-cancerous condition.

The source of Dr. Roberts’ problem lay in his lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a circular bundle of muscles located where the esophagus meets the stomach. When the LES is weakened or fails to close completely, highly corrosive stomach acid and partially digested food can flow backward.

THE LINX LINK

In addition to his daily practice, Dr. Roberts is a ringside physician for combat sports, such as mixed martial arts and boxing.

At a boxing match in 2014, he found himself working with another ringside physician Atif Iqbal, M.D., medical director of the Digestive Care Center at Orange Coast Medical Center. The two became friends and, after some time had passed, Dr. Roberts disclosed that he suffered from severe GERD.

“I was so surprised, because one of my specialties happens to be digestive disorder surgery,” says Dr. Iqbal. “I told him we now had a solution: the LINX device. It’s a small ring of titanium beads about the size of a quarter, and each of the beads has a magnetic center. When we wrap the ring around the weakened LES, the magnetic attraction causes it to contract, helping the LES stay closed. Food goes down and stays down – exactly what it’s supposed to do.”

LINX is a 30-minute, laparoscopic procedure with just four very small incisions. The pain and recovery time are minimal and most patients return to work in just a few days, free from GERD.

Dr. Roberts had the LINX implanted by Dr. Iqbal in early 2015 and, like 96 to 98 percent of Dr. Iqbal’s LINX patients, he awoke to a complete and immediate resolution of his symptoms. He now sleeps flat on his back, no longer needs his GERD medications and is enjoying every moment with his wife, children and grandchildren.

“This changed my life,” says Dr. Roberts. “I’d been battling GERD for 35 years and, just like that, LINX put an end to the fight.”

For more information, please call (714) 378–7664 to speak to the Digestive Care Center staff about a consultation.

You can also listen to Dr. Atif Iqbal's podcast on Emerging Technology in the Treatment of Extreme GERD.

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