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Magnetic Bead Bracelet Actually Works for Treating a Common Disease

Tim Boyer's picture
Treatment for gastroesophageal reflux disease

Researchers have turned to using a type of magnetic bead bracelet to help patients who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease - a common and serious medical condition more commonly referred to as “GERD.”

Acid reflux is a common condition shared by an estimated 1 in 3 Americans where stomach acid and other digestive juices rise from the stomach into the esophagus resulting in a painful burning sensation colloquially referred to as “heartburn.” While typically not an immediate medical threat to health, chronic, prolonged acid reflux can actually eat away at the sensitive lining of the esophagus resulting in an ulceration that can not only eventually perforate through the esophagus, but also result in esophageal cancer of which health authorities say is on the rise.

For many, acid reflux is due to a faulty sphincter valve located between the bottom of the esophagus and the top of the stomach that fails to remain closed properly after a person has eaten a meal. This faulty valve is blamed on the ring of muscles making up the sphincter that in a relaxed―rather than a normally contracted―position allows stomach acid to exit the stomach and enter the esophagus that is often added by gas buildup during digestion following a meal.

In cases where acid reflux disease is relatively mild, antacid tablets and other similar over-the counter medications suffice. However, in more serious cases where acid reflux is chronic and is not alleviated by antacid medications, patients are typically prescribed stomach acid suppressing drugs called “proton pump inhibitors.” Unfortunately however, one side effect of using such drugs is the risk of increased bone loss with prolonged usage that may be contraindicated in some women with GERD.

To help patients reduce or remove their reliance on medications to treat their acid reflux, researchers have turned to a more-mechanical solution using a bracelet-like magnetic bead implant device that is surgically placed surrounding the defective sphincter between the esophagus and the stomach.

The makers of the magnetic bead device describe the device as functioning via the augmentation of the muscles of the sphincter as a dynamic band that expands when food passes through, but then automatically contracts to close the valve and prevent acid from refluxing from the stomach into the esophagus.

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According to a news release by the Mayo Clinic, the published study’s co-author, C. Daniel Smith, M.D., chair of the Surgery Department at Mayo Clinic in Florida and a specialist in treating reflux disease states:

"This is the first new, safe and effective treatment we have to treat reflux disease in 20 years," Dr. Smith says. "The device is simple, elegant and functional, and it provides an opportunity to help a very large number of patients. The only treatment options in the past have been acid-suppressing agents or surgery. Acid-suppressing agents don't directly address the underlying ineffective valve, leaving patients with persistent symptoms; surgery can lead to distressing side effects of bloating and inability to vomit in 20 percent of patients. These side effects occurred rarely with this new device."

According to the study, the results demonstrated:

• That 64% of the 100 patients tested benefited from the magnetic bead bracelet treatment.
• There was a reduction of 50% or more in the use of proton-pump inhibitors in 93% of patients.
• An improvement of 50% or more in quality-of-life scores in 92% of patients.
• That the most common adverse event was dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) in 68% of patients postoperatively, in 11% at 1 year, and in 4% at 3 years following treatment.

The authors of the study state that the installation of the magnetic bead bracelet device is minimally invasive and takes one to two hours, after which the patients stays overnight in the hospital for observation.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: “Esophageal Sphincter Device for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease” New England Journal of Medicine 368:719-727 (February 21, 2013); Robert A. Ganz, M.D. et al.