New Heartburn Center Aims to Provide Comprehensive Care for Common Disease

Mar 27, 2017

The St. Joseph's heartburn center team: General Surgeons Dr. Atul Maini, left, and Dr. Balasubraman Sivakumar, right. In middle are Gastroenterologists Dr. Buniak and Dr. Sun.
Credit Provided photo / St. Joseph's Hospital

St. Joseph’s Hospital is taking a new, comprehensive approach to treating Central New Yorkers with heartburn.  Doctors from several fields have joined together to open a center dedicated to heartburn treatment.  Center co-director Dr. Atul Maini says heartburn affects one in five people, with nearly 20-million people in the U-S living with the prevalent disease. Maini says the center isn’t geared to treat those who just have occasional acid reflux.

"This is a really complicated disease, so it should be managed with a team of doctors.  We have a whole gamut of specialists to manage it," Maini said.  "In my opinion, the best management is done when you go to a center that specializes in  this kind of management."

The team of doctors is comprised of a gastroenterologist, psychologist, ENT doctor, pulmonologist, nutritionist, and a specialized surgeon. The group is able to meet and discuss proper treatment for each patient, rather than the patient having to see multiple doctors at different times and being unsure about their treatment plan. Maini says proper care is critical because improper treatment or no treatment at all can lead to more serious conditions.

Many suffering from heartburn self-medicate.
Credit nih.gov

"Because of the availability of over the county medications, the disease is being self medicated and managed, which is not a good thing in the long term, Maini said.  "It can have bad repercussions.  There's a 600 percent increase in esophageal cancer in the country.  This is one of the reasons this cancer is so much on the rise in recent years."

One way Maini and his team can combat heartburn is by implanting a small, quarter-sized device where the esophagus and stomach join together. It is made of small titanium beads with magnetic cores inside, connected by titanium wires. Maini says this implant surgery has been performed throughout the U.S. for nearly eight years, with thousands of patients having received the operation.

The LINX implant.
Credit Torax medical / via St. Joseph's Hospital

"When you swallow, the beads will expand, and open the esophagus to let you swallow," Maini explained.  "When your stomach wants to push some acid back into the esophagus, the beads will not open to let that happen."

Maini adds that awareness is a huge factor in combating the disease.   He says morbid obesity, poor diet, smoking, and excessive drinking can make heartburn worse.  The St. Joseph’s heartburn center hotline is 1-866-HRT-BURN.