SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) --If you've ever eaten anything spicy, chances are you've experienced heartburn sometime in your life.
An estimated 15 million Americans experience a severe form that produces almost daily episodes. Bay Area doctors are treating it at the source.
As a volunteer, Susan Nafziger cooks pots of chili and other dishes for service men and women at Travis Air Force Base. The problem comes when she tries to eat it herself.
"It burns mostly when I eat and it can be just about, right now, anything," says Nafziger.
Nafziger suffers from a severe form of stomach reflux. It produces heartburn-like symptoms so uncomfortable she's forced to take medications with potential long-term side effects. But now, she's about to try an alternative.
At California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, Dr. Kenneth Binmoeller is preparing an endoscopic device designed to treat the area where the reflux originates without traditional surgery.
"Our goal now is to lengthen that anti-reflux valve, which is at the junction of the esophagus and the stomach," says Binmoeller.
To accomplish that, Binmoeller inserts the device called the EsophyX into Nafziger's throat, then moves it down towards the stomach. Using camera images for guidance, he clamps onto the valve in the stomach that keeps food and acids from backing up. With a firm grip, he stretches it downward. Once in position, the EsophyX implants fasteners to keep the new, re-shaped valve in place.
"We have reinforced that flap valve by about 2 to 3 centimeters in length," he said.
Binmoeller says clinical trials have shown the technique is more effective than drugs in treating the root cause of severe reflux like Nafziger's.
"Because what the pharmacologic therapy does is it neutralizes the acid. It does not treat the reflux," Binmoeller said.
Nafziger is hoping the procedure will not only reduce her heartburn symptoms, but also allow her to enjoy the foods she loves.
"To look and think, maybe I can eat a hamburger without that would be nice," she says.
Written and produced by Tim Didion