Elizabeth Blandina, of Swoyersville, Pennsylvania, used to love eating but over the past five years, what began as indigestion got worse. "I got to the point where I couldn't have a glass of water. It would come right back up," she said.
And the stomach acid was also damaging her vocal cords causing her voice to become raspy.
When the muscular valve at the base of the esophagus weakens, and won't keep food and digestive acids in the stomach, that's reflux. Liz tried to control the problem with acid-reducing medicines called PPI's or proton pump inhibitors, and by changing her diet but nothing seemed to work.
"I remember one time going through a menu, and picking it apart, thinking, I couldn't have any of it."
So in hopes of a permanent fix, Elizabeth went to Dr. Benny Weksler, at Jefferson University Hospital. He is now using a process called E.L.F., short for "endoluminal fundiplication."
Dr. Weksler starts by putting a standard endoscope down the esophagus. Then a special attachment device reaches down into the stomach, and makes new folds around the weak valve. Dr. Weksler explained, "What we do is recreate this valve. We recreate it, by tightening it."
Other procedures to tighten the valve require surgery, with a hospital stay, and a three- to four- week recovery. With E.L.F., there's no incision, usually no hospital stay, and the recovery takes days. After, up to 90-percent of patients can either reduce or stop taking reflux medication.
And another option may be on the way. Dr. Philip Katz, at Einstein Medical Center, will be using another less-invasive remedy for reflux once it gets government approval next year. "Linx" is a ring-like device made of small magnets, which is placed around the base of the esophagus.
"The magnets stay closed until they need to open when you swallow. And after the materials come by, the magnets are designed to move back to their original size," Dr. Katz said.
Linx is installed during a 1-hour laparoscopic procedure, so it does require some small incisions. But like E.L.F., patients rebound quickly and the procedure is proving to also work quickly.
"A substantial number of patients were off PPI's at three months," Dr. Katz said.
Three months after undergoing the E.L.F. procedure, Liz Blandina is taking less medication and her vocal cords are healing. She still has to watch her diet, but said after years of pain, she is finally feeling better. "II would say i'm 60- to 70-percent better," she said.
The risks for both procedures are minimal. There is a chance the E.L.F. procedure won't work as well for some patients as it does for others. And these treatments are only for patients in which medication does not help.