The oesophagus carries food from the mouth to the stomach. The lower oesophageal sphincter is a ring of muscles at the bottom of the oesophagus that acts like a valve between the oesophagus and stomach.
Gastro oesophageal reflux disease, or GORD, is a chronic disease that occurs when the lower oesophageal sphincter does not close properly and the stomach’s contents leak back or reflux into the oesophagus.
When refluxed stomach acid touches the lining of the oesophagus, it causes a burning sensation in the chest or throat called heartburn. The fluid may even be tasted in the back of the mouth, and this is called acid indigestion. Occasional heartburn is common but does not necessarily mean one has GORD. Heartburn that occurs more than twice a week may be considered GORD, and it can eventually lead to more serious health problems.
Anyone, including infants, children and pregnant women, can have GORD.
The main symptoms are persistent heartburn and acid regurgitation. Some people have GORD without heartburn. Instead, they experience pain in the chest, hoarseness in the morning or trouble swallowing. You may feel like you have food stuck in your throat, you are choking or your throat is tight. GORD can also cause a dry cough and bad breath.
The most frequent symptoms of GORD are so common that they may not be associated with a disease. Self-diagnosis can lead to mistreatment. Consultation with a physician is essential for proper diagnosis and treatment of GORD.
Certain foods and drinks are also associated with reflux.
Surgery is an option when medicine and lifestyle changes do not work. Surgery may also be a reasonable alternative to a lifetime of drugs and discomfort.
This surgery is performed under general anaesthesia.
If a combination of lifestyle changes and drug therapy does not remedy reflux symptoms, a Nissen Fundoplication can be a very effective surgical procedure to correct reflux. This procedure involves wrapping the upper portion of the stomach around the base of the oesophagus to reinforce the strength of the lower oesophageal sphincter. Until recently, the procedure required a large abdominal incision. A hospital stay of 1-2 days was usually required, and the time to full recovery and return to work was measured in weeks.
A laparoscopic Nissen Fundoplication is a minimally invasive approach that involves specialised video equipment and instruments that allow a surgeon to perform the procedure through four tiny incisions, most of which are less than a half-centimetre in size. One advantage of this method is a brief hospitalisation. Most of the time it will require an overnight stay. Other advantages include less pain (less of a need for pain medication), fewer and smaller scars, and a shorter recovery time.
Laparoscopic Nissen Fundoplication is a safe and effective treatment of GORD. However, in rare cases the laparoscopic approach is not possible because it becomes difficult to visualise or handle organs effectively. In such instances, the traditional incision may need to be made to safely complete the operation.