POEM: Help for Swallowing Disorder

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Imagine if you felt like you were going to choke every time you ate food or drank liquid? That's what people with a condition called achalasia have to deal with daily. Now there's a simple procedure that could offer relief, it's surgery without an incision!

Don Ellison has been a welder for more than 30 years and he's loved every minute of his job.

Ellison told Ivanhoe, "To me, it's like money for nothing. I mean, I enjoy this!"

But a few years ago, work became harder when Don started having trouble swallowing.

"I was working here one day, and I had a corndog, and it felt like it was stuck in my throat" Ellison explained.

That happened every time he ate or drank! Don went from 170 pounds to 129 pounds!

Ellison told Ivanhoe, "I would choke on water!"

Don had a condition called achalasia, it happens when the esophagus doesn't contract.

Brian Louie, M.D., FRCSC, FACS, Thoracic Surgeon at Swedish Medical Center and Cancer Institute in Seattle, Washington told Ivanhoe, "They can't swallow regular food. They have trouble swallowing liquids, and they get a sensation that stuff just sits in their esophagus."

One way to relieve symptoms is surgery to cut the reflux muscle in the esophagus. Dr. Louie is now doing that without making any incisions on the outside of the patient's body.

"It's truly what people consider natural orifice surgery" Dr. Louie said.

With the POEM procedure, surgeons put a scope down the patient's throat. Then they weave small instruments down the esophagus and cut the muscle, helping it relax. Patients go home the next day and are back at work within a week.

Don had the procedure and didn't miss a beat at work. Now he can eat and drink without choking.

Ellison exclaimed, "I feel like I'm back in the game!"

Achalasia is rare, and doctors don't know exactly what causes it. It can occur at any age, but is most common from the mid-20s to the 60s. Other treatments may include Botox or a procedure where doctors stretch the esophagus called dilation.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Marsha Hitchcock, Field Producer; Cortni Spearman, Assistant Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer and Jamison Koczan, Editor.


BACKGROUND: Achalasia is a disease where the function of the esophagus stops working overtime. The disease is a disorder of the esophagus that occurs to due to the degeneration of the nerve network within the walls of the esophagus. The disease leaves patients with little propulsive power to push food toward and into the stomach as well as causing the valve at the top of the stomach to remain closed. Because of this it is very hard for patients to eat or drink anything. Some may need to drink a lot of fluids in order to get food into the stomach and others may feel pain and/or discomfort after eating. Some patients suffering from achalasia may have undigested food come up many hours after eating or when lying down.

(Source: Brian E. Louie, MD, Director of Thoracic Research and Education)

SYMPTOMS: Symptoms of achalasia may include:

Regurgitation of food

Chest pain or pain felt in the back, neck and arms


Difficulty swallowing liquids and solids


Unintentional weight loss

Many patients who suffer from achalasia cannot swallow regular food, they have trouble swallowing liquids and they get a sensation that food sits in their esophagus.

(Source: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000267.htm)

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Prior to the POEM procedure, many patients would opt for a laparoscopic surgery which entails cutting the muscle of the valve with five small incisions. POEM or Per Oral Endoscopic Myotomy now offers patients an incision-free option where that muscle is cut by introducing an endoscope through the mouth and into the esophagus. POEM is the first natural orifice surgical procedure. Brian E. Louie, MD, FRCSC, FACS, Thoracic Surgeon at Swedish Medical Center and Cancer Institute performed the first POEM procedure in Seattle, Washington on July 18th 2014.

(Source: Brian E. Louie, MD) MORE.


Clay Holtzman
Media Relations Manager
Copyright © 2019 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.