NHS introduces scalpel-free surgery to cure bad breath

Thousands of Brits with an unpleasant throat condition that causes bad breath and difficulty swallowing can be cured with a 30-minute scalpel-free surgery.

The only current treatment for the problem, called Zenker’s diverticulum, in which food debris gets trapped in tissue pockets in the esophagus (gullet), is to remove the tissue through a cut in the throat. But NHS chiefs have now approved a new technique that involves shaving tissue away using instruments passed through the mouth into the esophagus.

Experts say it could cure many more patients with the condition, which usually affects older adults.

‘There are many older people with untreated Zenker’s,’ says Dr Rehan Haidry, consultant gastroenterologist at University College London Hospital and the first doctor in the UK to perform the surgery on the NHS.

The Only Current Treatment For The Problem, Called Zenker'S Diverticulum, In Which Food Debris Gets Trapped In Tissue Pockets In The Esophagus (Gullet), Is To Remove The Tissue Through A Cut In The Throat.

The only current treatment for the problem, called Zenker’s diverticulum, in which food debris gets trapped in tissue pockets in the esophagus (gullet), is to remove the tissue through a cut in the throat.

“Many are refused surgery because it is deemed too risky, but this new method, which is simple and inexpensive, will reduce the number of patients in the UK.”

Zenker’s diverticulum affects about 3,000 Britons, mostly due to weakened neck muscles.

The weakened muscles cause tissue folds to form a so-called pharyngeal sac in the upper part of the esophagus.

Food and liquid get trapped here, which then leads to the formation of bacteria, which cause bad breath and difficulty swallowing while eating. Symptoms vary depending on how deep a pouch has formed.

In extreme cases, patients regularly choke while eating and suffer from chronic cough. In some cases, Zenker’s can cause life-threatening aspiration pneumonia — a lung infection caused when food, saliva, or other solid particles are inhaled into the lungs.

In the past, Zenker was thought to be rare. However, experts now believe that it is much more common as many cases go undiagnosed.

dr. Haidry says: ‘Often patients go to their GP complaining of a terrible cough, difficulty swallowing or very bad breath, but their doctor will dismiss this as part of old age. According to our estimates, Zenker’s actual figures are double what was previously believed.’

The current procedure is performed under general anesthesia and requires an incision in the throat. A staple tool is inserted through this cut and used to close the pouch. But the surgery risks infection and bleeding, making it unsafe for some vulnerable patients. dr. Haidry says, “You end up with patients who have excruciating pain for years without treatment.”

In addition, the staples can loosen over time, causing the pouch to re-form.

Many Older People With Zenker'S Were Not Offered Traditional Surgery Because The Risks Outweighed The Potential Benefits

Many older people with Zenker’s were not offered traditional surgery because the risks outweighed the potential benefits

The new procedure is also performed under general anesthesia, but involves passing a tube down the throat until it reaches the sac. A small surgical blade is attached to the end of the tube and, using a camera, surgeons cut away the excess tissue.

The procedure usually takes half an hour and patients can go home the same day.

Studies show that the surgery is more effective than the previous method and results in fewer side effects.

For now, it’s only offered at University College Hospital London, but experts say more NHS trusts will start using it next year. “It’s affordable and very easy for surgeons to learn,” adds Dr Haidry.

One of the first NHS patients to benefit is Martin Smith, 82, from London, who was treated in September. In June, the former surveyor began to struggle with swallowing his food.

“It felt like I was choking almost every time I took a bite,” Martin says. “It also affected my breath. It was embarrassing and made eating very difficult.’

His GP sent him for an X-ray that showed a pouch had formed in his throat. He was then referred to Dr. Haidry.

Martin went to the hospital in the morning, had surgery at 4 p.m. and was gone after an overnight stay.

“Since then, my throat has really improved,” he says. “It felt quite painful for a few days, but now it’s gone and I’m eating solid foods again without any problems.”

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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