June 9th, 2010
09:30 AM ET

New tool may help ID acid reflux disease

By Trisha Henry
CNN Medical Producer

Researchers in India say they are developing a tool for identifying acid reflux disease that could lead to improved treatments.

Using a molecular imaging device for the first time in this manner, researchers were able to examine the differences between a healthy esophageal muscle and an unhealthy one. They found that a lack of tone or motility in the esophageal muscles may determine whether  someone will develop gastro-esophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD.  When this muscle fails to work properly the stomach acids back up into the esophagus.

Studies suggest more than 15 million people in the United States suffer symptoms of GERD each day.

The molecular imaging study, presented at the Society of Nuclear Medicine's annual meeting, included 49 participants who were scanned upright with a special molecular imaging device to see how their esophagus muscles and lower-esophageal sphincter were functioning. According to Society of Nuclear Medicine research chair, Dr. Peter S. Conti, what is different about this study is the specific test that was performed and how it was done.  "By positioning the patient different, you trigger the dis-motility, by making it more obvious on the scan, which then allows you to make the correlation better," says Conti.  In addition, a more traditional gastric reflux study was done on the patients while they were lying face down. While the participants reported varying degrees of symptoms, almost half showed some sort of problem with their esophagus muscle while lying down. This suggests the possibility that abnormal esophageal motility may be the main contributor to developing acid reflux disease.

Normally when you swallow, the lower esophageal sphincter – acts as a trap door and it relaxes, allowing for food and liquids to move into the stomach. The muscle then tightens, closing the gateway. When GERD is present, this circular muscle doesn't work, it either doesn't close all the way or it opens too often, so the gastric acid becomes stuck in the food pipe. This can cause inflammation in the esophagus, acid indigestion, or "heartburn" and can cause discomfort.  If these acids aren't removed from the esophagus, over time, they can lead to more serious issues, such as bleeding or breathing problems and even cancer.

While more research is needed to confirm the finding, it could lead to new drug treatments to correct the muscular movements in the esophageal wall. Conti says this new way of testing could also help doctors pinpoint the disease, which could lead to better diagnosis and follow-up examinations.

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soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Scott

    I thought I would share my findings that it may be of benifit to others. I suffered with reflux and heartburn for about 10 years. I remember the first time it hit me and how bad it felt. From that point on it was and almost daily battle. I also developed what my Doctor called geographic tongue. I suffered for about ten years. Toward the end of about ten years I had and allergy test for food and found out I was allergic to gluten. I did not put the two together at first but after about 6 months I thought I would reduce my gluten intake and with in 3 days I was off my perscription and free of reflux/heartburn. I can have some gluten or wheat products but I know how much and when to stop. If I do get heartburn it may be a couple of times a year and I just take and over the counter acid reducer and I am fine. It was so bad that at one point I was considering invasive surgery to correct the problem. I developed my allergy to gluten as and adult, around age 32 or that is when it really started to affect me. BTW..I no longer suffer with geographic tongue since reducing my gluten intake. I have also noticed I can eat the spiciest of foods with no ill effect. Just and FYI

    June 9, 2010 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Smith in Oregon

    That's encouraging news isn't it? The current proton pump drugs routinely handed out for acid reflux disease appear to led to fragile bones and could lead to fractures in the arms and legs. I wonder what hidden danger's these new drugs have?

    June 9, 2010 at 18:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Carolyn Lauland

    I have been diagnosed with gerd over 20 years ago and had many tests with reslults being that I had problems with the muscle leading to stomach not functing by leaving acid back up into my esophogase however I do not have sour stomach, heart burn however I have gas right after I eat or drink anything even water . The gas pain that I have is felt in the middle of my cheast and in my back and belching which does not help the pain. I have been on stomach medicine for the past 20 years I have tried all prescritions for this and I am presantly on prostonix 40 mg. I have days when I have so much that I can't sleep good with it at night. I have been told to sleep with my head higher than my feet to be able to sleep properly. I have days when I have little or no gas and the next days when I might have alot. I follow the prescribed diet for this condition by staying off things such has caffenine caused by drinking coffee which I don't do. I eat smaller meals during the day that doctors have prescribed but they keep coming back. Lately, I have had a lot of stress do to my living conditions.However , I am a heart patient with 3 valves in my heart that leak . Could these symptoms be connected with my heart problem. I also symptoms with asthma. Confussed, please help.


    June 10, 2010 at 10:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Mary

    I am confused about my symptoms. My doctor has never said I have GERD but does say he hears people describe what I feel from people who have previously had hernia surgery which I have. I now have herniated again. I did not have these symptoms before my first hernia.

    My symptoms are a drawing sensation in my throat mostly in the upper area around my Adams Apple. Occasionally it is accompanied by lower down (sternum) heart burn but usually not. The sensation is not really painful but it is annoying and tends to get worse as the day wears on. I frequently often feel a fullness in my throat and this causes a slight choking sensation. As long as I do not swallow food too quickly I do not have any trouble swallowing but if I do it too quickly, I will have a little trouble with swallowing. My ENT (who I see for other unrelated issues) checked me and found no problems, other than that my swallowing is rather sluggish.

    I have no trouble breathing, never have had asthma or anything like that. No cough except when I first lie down I do cough a little. I assume that is due to the hernia.

    Anyone who has been diagnosed with GERD have these symptoms?

    June 15, 2010 at 20:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Kay

    I am a 45 yrs old female, taking Proton Pump Inhibitors makes my hair fall out. Pefore taking the medicine I had very thick hair, 2 years later I have baby fine thin hair. When I mentioned it to my GP he said it was very rare, however I noticed it was listed as a side effect on the accompanying leaflet. My GP didnt tell me about this when he prescribed them to me.

    June 16, 2010 at 08:30 | Report abuse | Reply
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    October 1, 2010 at 10:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. John

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    Acid reflux is quite nasty and a bit painfull too. I usually take antacids to reduce stomach acids and some other food supplements. ,:`":

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    July 30, 2012 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
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    June 14, 2019 at 03:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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