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 give them.
It’s a novel way to treat severe acid reflux, which plagues millions of Americans and can raise their risk for more serious health 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 like Nexium and Prilosec reduce acid. But they don’t fix the underlying problem, gastroesophageal reflux disease.
The treatment, approved last year by the Food and Drug Administration, was “life-changing,” said Rodd Foster, 61, a California plumbing contractor. “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 Torax Medical Inc. of St. Paul, Minn., is a ring of titanium beads with magnets inside. Doctors place it around the weak muscle at the base of the esophagus in a half-hour operation using a scope and “keyhole” incisions in the belly. 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. People don’t feel it once it is implanted.
The device costs $5,000; the operation can run $12,000 to $20,000 depending on hospital charges, said Dr. John Lipham, a surgeon who offers it at the University of Southern California and at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach. Many insurers cover it for patients who are not helped enough by antacid medicines.
“It is a clever device,” said another doctor who has used it — Dr. Donald Castell, a gastroenterologist at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Both doctors consult for Torax. A third expert with no financial ties to the company — Dr. Daniel DeMarco of Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas — said early results with the device have been “very impressive.”