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Patient hails ‘life-changing’ implant for severe acid reflux

By Alastair FeeHealth Correspondent, BBC South

BBC Danielle HardingBBC

Danielle Harding said the implant had been life changing

A woman who suffered the debilitating effects of severe acid reflux has described a new implant as “amazing” and “life changing”.

Danielle Harding, 30, could not eat without enduring severe coughing and pain because of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

She was one of the first patients in the UK to receive the implant of a silicone ball into her upper stomach wall.

University Hospital Southampton said there was “excitement” about the early results of the procedure.

GORD occurs when contents from the stomach flow back into the oesophagus – the long tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach.

It happens when the muscular valve – the lower oesophageal sphincter – at the bottom of the oesophagus becomes weakened because it has moved too close to the diaphragm or even into the chest, affecting its function to allow food in and stop acid leaking out.

Up to 9.5 million people in the UK are thought to be affected by the condition.

Symptoms include heartburn, regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, bloating, as well as teeth and gum damage, nutritional problems, and sleep impairment.

It is estimated that up to one in 10 sufferers will develop oesophageal cancer within 10 to 20 years.

The RefluxStop implant held in an open hand

The RefluxStop implant is smaller than a ping pong ball

Ms Harding, a mother of two from Southampton, said she endured “really horrible” pain at every meal over a two-year period.

“I would get it quite a lot throughout the day, really bad chest pains and it would just like move up into my throat,” she said.

“My nose would start to run and I would get severe coughing and then I’d end up vomiting.

“Going out to eat and having meals – there was anxiety over that because of the fear of what people would think if I suddenly start violently coughing in the middle of the restaurant – would I need to run to the toilet to throw up?”

Current treatments for GORD include drug therapy called proton pump inhibitors (PPI) or a surgical procedure known as the fundoplication method.

Ms Harding was fitted with a new device, the RefluxStop, during a two-hour operation at University Hospital Southampton.

Made out of medical grade rounded solid silicone, the implant measures about 25mm – smaller than a ping pong ball.

Robotic surgery was used to fix it to the upper part of the stomach wall to block movement of the lower oesophageal sphincter.

Oesophagogastric surgeon Fergus Noble

Oesophagogastric surgeon Fergus Noble carried out the operation at University Hospital Southampton

Fergus Noble, oesophagogastric surgeon at the hospital, said the first uses of the implant were showing “good results”.

“We’re aware of the challenges of the other alternative treatments, whether they be antacid medication or other surgery and the excitement around this is that the early data shows that they get less side-effects compared to the other treatments”

The non-active implant is expected to last a lifetime and patients who receive the surgery should see an almost immediate improvement to their symptoms.

Ms Harding said the operation had changed her life.

“I’ve got no acid reflux, no symptoms of heartburn, not even mild symptoms – I can eat – it’s been amazing,” she said.

Following early implants of the device at Southampton and Imperial College London, it is hoped the implant could be rolled out to other NHS trusts.

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