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Magnets for treating heartburn

A magnetic bracelet that sits inside the body could be a radical new treatment for acid reflux. The bracelet is made up of a dozen titanium beads, each of which contains a tiny magnet. The device is fitted around the bottom of the esophagus - the 'pipe' through which food travels to the stomach. Once in place, the magnets pull together. This stops acid from the stomach leaking back up into the esophagus and burning its delicate lining, causing heartburn.

When the patient swallows, the beads are gently forced apart, sliding along the tiny metal arms that link them together. This allows food to pass through into the stomach.Once it has, the magnets pull together again to form a seal.

Around 150 patients in the U.S. have already been fitted with the revolutionary device, and results have been very encouraging. The bracelet, known as the Linx device, was also recently approved for use in the UK.

Heartburn affects around one in three people at some point in their lives. It is caused by the powerful hydrochloric acid found in our stomach juices.

The stomach produces this acid to break down food. In a healthy body, the acid is prevented from flowing back up the oesophagus by a small muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter, which works like a one-way valve to control the flow of food into the stomach.
But if this muscle does not work properly, acid can leak up into the esophagus, causing the pain of heartburn. Causes of heartburn include fatty foods, as they take longer to digest so sit around in the stomach for longer.

Spicy dishes can irritate the lining of the gullet, and alcohol can also trigger the symptoms by making the muscle relax. Treatment usually involves over-the-counter antacid pills, which dampen down the inflammation in the oesophagus caused by leaking fluids. But anyone suffering more than twice a week could have a condition called Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disorder, or GERD, where the lining of the oesophagus becomes damaged by excess acid exposure.

Left untreated, GERD can increase the risk of ulcers and even cancer of the esophagus. For while the stomach is protected against the harmful effects of the acid by a protective layer of mucus, the esophagus does not have this barrier.

Most sufferers improve with a one-month course of drugs called proton-pump inhibitors, which lower acid production. But they do not work for everybody, and some patients end up needing a surgical procedure called fundoplication, where the top of the stomach is stitched around the esophagus to give it more support.

Although this is a treatment generally carried out by keyhole surgery, it still carries the risk of injury to the esophagus or stomach because of the complex surgery involved. (See our Acid Reflux Surgery Q&A)

The magnetic bracelet, however, could be a less complex solution because it does not involve cutting tissue inside the body. With the patient under anaesthetic, surgeons use keyhole surgery to implant the device through the abdomen.

The bracelet is wrapped around the bottom of the esophagus, where it joins the stomach, and the two ends clipped together. The tiny magnets inside the titanium beads instantly pull together, shutting off the entrance from the esophagus to the stomach. When the patient eats, the food gets pushed down towards the stomach as normal by muscles in the esophagus contracting. As the food reaches the bracelet, the magnetic beads 'give way' by sliding a few millimetres along the tiny metal arms that connect them together.

The results of a study, published recently in the Journal of Gastro-intestinal Surgery, showed that in a trial of 38 patients, almost 90 per cent of them were able to stop all heartburn medication within three months of being given the bracelet, which was developed by U.S. firm Torax Medical Inc.

Dr Jamie Dalrymple, chairman of the Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology, described the magnetic bracelet as 'an excellent idea' and said it could save many patients from either having to take anti-heartburn drugs for the rest of their lives, or face 'major invasive surgery'. He added: 'If further studies show that it works well and it really is a long-term solution, then it could be great news for patients. A 90 per cent success rate is pretty impressive.'


Source: Daily Mail, April 26, 2010

Last modification 10/05/2010