Healthcare Tips

Surgery Can Help with Stubborn Acid Reflux, But it Comes with Some Downsides

April 11, 2022

Nobody wants to live with chronic heartburn, and it’s nice to know you don’t have to. Surgery may be a solution for anyone whose heartburn persists despite medication and lifestyle changes, or for those who have severe esophageal inflammation, Barrett’s esophagus, or narrowed esophagus.

Surgery isn’t a choice to be made lightly, of course, and it’s important to gather as much information as possible before you make it. If you’re looking for a starting point, read on.

Causes and treatments for acid reflux 

A valve under the esophagus, when functioning correctly, provides the barrier between your stomach acid and your esophagus. When that valve becomes weak or damaged, acid reflux, heartburn, difficulty swallowing, chest pain, and other symptoms ensue. If the reflux becomes chronic or severe, that’s gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). 

For mild or moderate reflux, lifestyle changes often do the trick. Over-the-counter options are also an option, and prescription medications are available. And when none of that does enough, surgery becomes a consideration.

Surgical options

GERD can cause serious complications that go way beyond discomfort. Stomach acid may lead to inflammation in the esophagus and, if it persists, may cause bleeding, ulcers, and tissue damage that makes swallowing difficult. As a last resort, surgery may reverse these complications.

Fundoplication is the standard option, and it can be performed as open or laparoscopic surgery. It requires a couple of days of prep, during which you take a bowel-cleansing medication and follow a clear liquid diet. The surgery itself joins the upper part of the stomach to the esophagus, ultimately strengthening the valve so the esophagus can heal. 

After open surgery, patients usually recover in the hospital for several days and require 4-6 weeks to get back to normal activity. Laparoscopic fundoplication typically requires 2-3 days in the hospital and 2-3 additional weeks of recovery. In either case, eating soft foods for a while is helpful for letting the esophagus heal.


Fundoplication is usually successful, with about 90% of patients reporting their symptoms resolve, but about 10% report difficulty swallowing and almost 20% find an increase in gas-related symptoms like bloating, flatulence, and belching. 

If you’re considering surgery to correct acid reflux—or for any other reason—and have questions, our surgeons have answers. Check out for information about what happens, before, during, and after surgery, as well as specifics about some of the procedures we perform most often.

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