NEW YORK — A tiny magnetic bracelet implanted at the base of the throat is greatly improving life for some people with chronic heartburn who need more help than medicine can provide.
It’s a novel way to treat severe acid reflux, which plagues millions of Americans and can raise their risk for more serious problems.
It happens when a weak muscle doesn’t close after swallowing as it should. That lets stomach juices splash back into the throat. Drugs such as Nexium and Prilosec reduce acid. But they don’t fix the underlying problem, called gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Rodd Foster had it so bad he used to sleep sitting up to keep his dinner down. Tricia Carr worried she would develop complications such as the one that killed her mother.
Both Californians got help from the new device, approved a year ago by the federal Food and Drug Administration and also sold in Europe.
The treatment was ‘‘life-changing,’’ said Foster, a 61-year-old plumbing contractor from Canyon Country, Calif. ‘‘It’s been 30 years since I’ve been able to eat normally and now I can eat anything anytime.’’
The Linx device, made by Medical Inc., is a ring of titanium beads with magnets. Doctors place it around the weak muscle at the base of the esophagus using a scope and ‘‘keyhole’’ incisions in the stomach. The ring reinforces the weak muscle to keep it closed, yet is flexible and expands to let food pass when someone swallows.
The ring comes in multiple sizes; it is about a half-inch in diameter and expands to about 1.5 inches. Patients say they don’t feel it.