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Surgery Doesn't Always Do the Trick for GERD

Study finds many patients still need drugs to ease their chronic indigestion

MONDAY, Oct. 21, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- At least 50 percent of those who have surgery for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) still need drugs to ease their chronic indigestion, according to new research.

The finding means the assumption that surgery for GERD patients is a more economical option than long-term medication therapy is not necessarily true.

In a study comparing the expenses for patients one year before and 18 months after surgery, researchers at the Boston Scientific Corp. found that "surgery costs were not offset by the reduction in medication costs during an 18-month follow-up period," says lead author Erin Sullivan.

GERD symptoms occur when the valve between the stomach and esophagus lets stomach acid leak into the esophagus.

When drugs make little difference or when patients don't want to depend on a lifelong medication regime, some sufferers opt for surgery. A successful operation eases symptoms because the valve is modified to work the way it should.

The Boston researchers reviewed a national database of publicly and privately insured patients. They matched the records of 123 surgical patients to the records of 246 GERD patients managed without surgery.

Their findings, presented today at the American College of Gastroenterology's annual meeting in Seattle, revealed that although medication costs for people who selected surgery were lower than those on drugs, the outlay for the operation pushed the price up so that in the final tally, surgery was the more expensive option.

"Our results indicate that we need to follow GERD patients over a longer follow-up period to determine the actual cost effectiveness of surgery," Sullivan says.

More information

The GERD Information Resource Center has more on the disease.

SOURCE: American College of Gastroenterology, news release, Oct. 21, 2002
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