Night-time necklace that can stop the pain of heartburn



10:28 GMT, 5 June 2012

Overnight mircale: The device works by applying gentle pressure to the neck to stop acid leaking back up into the throat

Overnight mircale: The device works by applying gentle pressure to the neck to stop acid leaking back up into the throat

A necklace worn in bed at night could help banish the pain and discomfort of heartburn.

The device works by applying gentle pressure to the neck to stop burning acid leaking back up from the stomach into the throat.

It has a soft pad, about the size of a matchbox, which sits just underneath the Adam’s apple and presses against the top of the oesophagus — the ‘pipe’ that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.

The adjustable necklace — which looks a bit like a dog collar — is tight enough to prevent acid reaching the throat, but not so tight that it causes the patient any discomfort.

Heartburn affects around one in three people at some point in their lives. It is caused by powerful hydrochloric acid found in our stomach juices.

The stomach produces this acid to break down food. In a healthy body, the acid is prevented from flowing back up  the oesophagus by a small muscle, the lower oesophageal sphincter, which works like a one-way valve to control the flow of food into the stomach.

But if this muscle does not work properly, acid can leak up into the  oesophagus, causing the pain of heartburn.

The stomach is protected against the harmful effects of the acid by a  protective layer  of mucus. But  the oesophagus does not have this barrier.

Fatty foods can cause problems because they take longer to digest and so sit around in the stomach for longer, while spicy dishes irritate the lining of the gullet.

Delicate: The painful condition is caused by hydrochloric acid found in our stomach juices

Delicate: The painful condition is caused by hydrochloric acid found in our stomach juices

Peppermint, spearmint and chocolate can also trigger the symptoms because they contain chemicals that relax the oesophageal sphincter. Symptoms are often worse at night, when you’re lying flat in bed.

Occasional heartburn can be treated with over-the-counter antacid pills, that dampen down the inflammation in the oesophagus.

But anyone suffering more than twice a week could have Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disorder, or GORD, where the lining of the oesophagus becomes damaged by excess acid exposure.

Left untreated, GORD can increase the risk of ulcers and even cancer of the oesophagus.

Most sufferers improve with a one-month course of drugs called proton pump inhibitors, which lower acid production.

Small lifestyle changes that can have a big impact on health

But some patients end up needing a surgical procedure called fundoplication, where the top part of the stomach is stitched round the oesophagus to give it more support.

The latest device, called the Reza-Band, was developed by experts at the Medical College of Wisconsin in the U.S. to help those who do not respond to drug treatment and are keen to avoid surgery.

It is made from a flexible material that stretches round the neck. So far, the device has been tested on 28 patients with severe heartburn that had not responded to drugs and was disrupting their sleep.

The results showed a significant reduction in burning in the volunteers’ throats because acid was unable to leak through from the oesophagus.

The necklace is still in the early stages of testing. It has yet to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is unlikely to be available in Britain for at least two to three years, though a new U.S.-based company — called Somna Therapeutics — has been formed to market the device.

However, it’s hoped it could be a cheap and simple way to tackle heartburn.

Dr John de Caestecker, consultant gastroenterologist at University Hospital Leicester, said the necklace therapy was ‘interesting’ and might help some people who ‘get a cough or hoarse voice’.

But he stressed it was not a device for everyone with heartburn, as rather than deal with the chest pain and burning sensations that can affect the oesophagus, it is designed to tackle only the symptoms affecting the throat.

Meanwhile, scientists are testing fat jabs as a treatment for another condition relating to digestion, Crohn’s disease.

In a trial, fat removed during liposuction procedures will be used to treat ulcers, a common complication of the disease. The fat is a rich source of stem cells, which can trigger tissue healing.

Crohn’s is a chronic bowel disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive tract, usually the lower part of the small intestine. This can lead to painful fistulas (openings) in the tissue. Surgery is required to treat these, but they can reappear, which means more surgery.

It’s hoped injecting fat stem cells could solve the problem.

Previous studies have shown positive results. In one study at La Paz University Hospital in Madrid, stem cells were taken from the fat of four Crohn’s sufferers before being re-injected into their fistulas.

Results show six of the ‘openings’ had healed within eight weeks. In the other two there were partial closures.

In the trial at Leiden University in the Netherlands, researchers will inject fat stem cells from donors — obtained through cosmetic liposuction procedures — to treat fistulas in Crohn’s patients. They will then compare the results with surgery.