New Diagnostic Test Helps Doctors Recognize Causes of Acid Reflux

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Milwaukee, Wis., January 10, 2006 – A new technology being used at Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee is helping doctors better diagnose the cause of gastroesophageal reflux disorder, or GERD. GERD, or acid reflux, is the term used to describe the backflow of acid from the stomach into the swallowing tube or esophagus. GERD is a very common disorder that affects an estimated 25 to 35 percent of the U.S. population. In many cases, patients are treated successfully with medication, but in a small percentage of patients, further intervention is required. Patients who are not treated promptly are at risk for more serious medical conditions. A 1999 study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that patients with chronic, untreated heartburn of many years duration were at substantially greater risk of developing esophageal cancer.

In most cases, doctors can diagnose the cause of GERD and prescribe medications to treat this disorder. However, according to Dr. Drew Elgin, a gastroenterologist from Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital, in about 10-15 percent of the patients it is hard to tell whether the source of the GERD is from acid or non acid.

The new technology, called the Impedance Ph System, allows doctors to better diagnose these more challenging patients. With this test, Elgin inserts a small thin probe (diameter of a telephone cord) into the esophagus thru the nose. The doctor will sometimes numb the back of the throat to make it easier for the patient to swallow the probe. The wafer thin device resides in the lining of the esophagus for 12-24 hours, allowing it to collect and transmit data to a computer that is set up to analyze the information from the patient’s esophagus.

“The patient can go about his or her daily activities as they will probably not notice the probe is there,” Elgin said.

Once the probe is removed, the results show Elgin how much acidic or non-acidic material had backed up into the esophagus during the data collection period. For patients with non-acid back up, it may mean more aggressive surgical intervention at an earlier point compared to previous years, Elgin said. For patients who are diagnosed with more definitive acid reflux, it may mean their medications are adjusted to treat this problem, he said.

“Impedance provides us with an advanced test that allows us to treat more difficult to diagnose patients. In many cases, these patients do require surgery. With Impedance, we are able to diagnose their need for surgery much more quickly rather than force the patient to take medications for several years before surgery is performed.”

About Columbia St. Mary’s
Columbia St. Mary's is comprised of four hospitals: Columbia St. Mary's Hospital Milwaukee, Columbia St. Mary's Columbia Campus, Columbia St. Mary's Hospital Ozaukee, and Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Institute, as well as 28 primary care clinics, the Columbia College of Nursing, a partnership with the Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin, the new River Woods Outpatient Center in Glendale, and new Urgent Care Center in downtown Milwaukee. The system serves individuals and families in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, and Washington counties, with more than 158 years of service. In 2006, Columbia St. Mary’s was named a Solucient Top 100 Hospital. Columbia St. Mary's and its sponsor organizations, Ascension Health and Columbia Health System, share a mission to make a positive difference in the health status and lives of individuals in the community with a special concern for those who are vulnerable.  



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