“I felt like I was drowning.” That’s the feeling Vince Munoz recalled when talking about his acid reflux.
The 38-year-old software consultant couldn’t sleep at night, couldn’t breathe well and was in and out of emergency rooms. All because of a very common health disorder that – to one degree or another – affects approximately 60 million Americans.
Munoz suffers from chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, a serious and long-lasting form of what’s more commonly known as acid indigestion and heartburn.
Coordinated care for acid reflux
The difficulty for patients like Vincent Munoz is finding the right expertise and getting access to the range of specialists who are often needed to fully diagnose and treat reflux, particularly when it is severe. Coordinated care is essential. Like many GERD patients, Munoz endured multiple appointments with multiple providers over many, many months.
That’s what prompted the UC Davis Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery to establish a Reflux Clinic. No one else in the entire Sacramento region was bringing together an interdisciplinary team of experts to provide one-stop specialty care for reflux patients.
“Patients weren’t being taken care of with the previous paradigm,” said Peter Belafsky, who co-directs the clinic with Hazem Shamseddeen and also serves as medical director of the Voice and Swallowing Center at UC Davis Health. “Patients typically have found themselves getting passed around all the different specialists. We wanted a team approach that enabled patients to be seen in one clinic, get the diagnosis, and leave with a treatment plan.”
Full range of treatments for GERD and related complications
The UC Davis clinic offers state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment options for patients with GERD, which can sometimes cause serious complications over time, including esophagitis, esophageal stricture, respiratory problems, Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer. Barrett’s esophagus is especially troubling because it is a rapidly rising condition nationally and can lead to a deadly form of cancer of the esophagus.
Other conditions of the foregut (esophagus, stomach, and small intestine) that are treated at the clinic include achalasia and laryngopharyngeal reflux (or LPR), which is different from GERD and caused by backflow of stomach contents into the throat, where it primarily damages the larynx rather than the esophagus.
The reflux clinic includes a speech pathologist, physician assistant, nutritionist and Shamseddeen, co-director of the clinic and a general surgeon specializing in bariatric surgery – important expertise because reflux is exacerbated by obesity and a poor diet.
“We basically offer all the possible medical options available in the entire country to treat and manage reflux patients,” said Shamseddeen, noting that team offers endoscopic, laparoscopic and robotic procedures to complement the other GERD-related diagnoses and care a patient might need.
The UC Davis reflux team draws from the latest scientific evidence and research advancements produced at UC Davis and across academic medicine to offer patients a wide range of complementary lifestyle, medication and surgical treatment options – coordinated to give every patient a focused view of their particular condition and the likely best treatments.
A regional resource for problems of the foregut
Shamseddeen and Belafsky emphasized that the clinic is a regional resource, offering everything from nutrition to surgical innovation and advanced techniques under one roof.
“In fact, we’re more than a reflux clinic,” Shamseddeen added. “We’re really a foregut clinic because of the range of disciplines we bring to our patients.”
In addition to the monthly patients’ clinic, the Reflux team conducts medical rounds and holds interdisciplinary conference meetings where they discuss the most challenging cases and work to put together the best possible treatment plans.
That intense focus immediately benefitted Munoz, who spent more than a year struggling to get appointments, diagnoses and treatment at another Sacramento health provider before finally being referred to UC Davis Health, where everyone was in one place.
“In one appointment, I saw the nutritionist to talk about what to do in terms of my diet, the surgeon [Dr. Shamseddeen] to discuss my surgical options, and then Dr. Belafsky to talk about next steps,” said Munoz. “The combination of all those specialists was great. My wife was asking questions with one doctor while I was talking to the other one.”