Laparoscopic fundoplication

      Traditionally, surgical antireflux therapy has been reserved for patients with complicated gastroesophageal reflux disease. The introduction of laparoscopic techniques has resulted in increased acceptance of surgery as a treatment option for reflux disease by both patients and physicians. While complications of gastroesophageal reflux such as erosive esophagitis, stricture, and/or Barrett’s esophagus remain indications for antireflux surgery, dependence on proton pump inhibitors for relief of symptoms is an increasingly common indication particularly in young patients. In addition, patients with respiratory complications such as recurrent pneumonia, bronchiectasis, or laryngeal and/or upper airway symptoms which respond to proton pump inhibitor (PPI) therapy may be considered candidates for the procedure.
      A thorough preoperative evaluation and careful patient selection are the cornerstones to achieving a successful outcome. Patient evaluation begins with a detailed and structured investigation of the patients’ symptoms supplemented by the use of appropriate investigations to characterize the anatomic and physiologic abnormalities present. The goals of this evaluation are to confirm the presence of abnormal gastroesophageal reflux and to assess its severity. This evaluation can also identify patients at risk for development of progressive or complicated reflux disease, and those who are likely to respond to surgical therapy. The optimal surgical approach and type of antireflux procedure are also best determined on the basis of the results of this evaluation.
      A complete patient history should include the patient’s perception of what each symptom means in an effort to avoid misinterpretation. It is useful to classify symptoms as primary or secondary for prioritization of therapy and to allow an estimate of the probability of relief of each symptom. The response of each symptom to acid suppressing medications should be noted. Failure of adequate medical therapy to control the patient’s symptoms suggests either that the diagnosis is incorrect, or that the patient has severe disease and a detailed physiologic assessment is in order.
      Reflux related symptoms can be conveniently divided into “typical” symptoms, of heartburn, regurgitation, and dysphagia, and “atypical” symptoms of cough, hoarseness, asthma, aspiration, and chest pain. Typical symptoms are more likely to be caused by abnormal esophageal acid exposure, since there are fewer alternative mechanisms for their generation. Atypical symptoms such as cough, hoarseness, wheezing, or sore throat need to be investigated more carefully, and other more common causative factors should be investigated. The patient should be made aware of the fact that the probability of success of surgery in relieving these atypical symptoms is less, and that it takes longer to achieve relief following antireflux surgery. The detailed symptom assessment should specifically seek to elicit symptoms of nonreflux related gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms that will not improve or may be worsened by antireflux surgery. These include symptoms consistent with irritable bowel syndrome (such as alternating diarrhea and constipation, bloating, and crampy abdominal pain) and symptoms suggestive of gastric pathology (nausea, early satiety, epigastric abdominal pain, anorexia, and weight loss).
      The diagnostic evaluation includes performance of an endoscopic examination, a contrast upper GI study and esophageal function studies with pH testing. Endoscopy provides the opportunity to assess the severity of mucosal damage and to identify the presence of Barrett’s esophagus, both of which predict a high risk for medical failure. A contrast esophagram using cineradiography allows detection and characterization of a hiatal hernia if present, as well as allowing assessment of bolus transport function. Esophageal manometry complements the upper GI study in assessing motility and it can be used to identify patients with severe disorders of esophageal motility in whom a partial fundoplication should be considered. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) function should also be evaluated, since the presence of a mechanically defective LES is a risk factor for the development of complications of reflux disease and it predicts failure of response to medical therapy. Ambulatory esophageal pH monitoring completes the physiologic evaluation, documenting the presence of abnormal esophageal acid exposure.

      Surgical technique

      The patient is placed on the operating table in the modified lithotomy position, in 20 to 45° of reverse Trendelenberg which allows the abdominal viscera, specifically the transverse colon and small bowel, to fall down toward the pelvis out of the operative field. The lower extremities are abducted in stirrups with the hips and knees slightly flexed. The hips should not be flexed more than approximately 20° otherwise downward movement of instruments in the lower abdominal ports will be hindered. Intermittent antiembolic compression devices should be placed on both lower extremities to reduce the risk of thromboembolism. A urinary catheter is routinely placed.
      There is a tendency for the patient to slide caudally on the operating table when placed in the reverse Trendelenberg position, especially if the patient is obese. Kidney rests can be attached to the sides of the OR table, and these can be padded and placed against the buttocks to prevent the hips from sliding downward. Commercially available thigh straps that are designed to hold the patient from sliding downward off the table may also be used. The patient should also be securely strapped to the operating table across the thorax, out of the operative field. An upper body convection heat device may be used keep the patient warm throughout the procedure.

      Postoperative considerations

      Most patients are discharged on the first or second postoperative day. Patients may experience mild to moderate incisional and shoulder pain, which is managed with parenteral narcotics or ketorolac for the first 24 hours and oral liquid narcotics thereafter as necessary. Any patient who does not follow this expected course of recovery should be monitored closely, and a contrast esophagogram should be considered to exclude the possibility of injury to the esophagus and/or stomach, resulting in a leak.
      The foley catheter and nasogastric tube are removed on the morning after surgery, and a liquid diet is started. A soft diet is begun the following day, gradually advancing the patient to a normal diet over a two-week period of time. The patient is instructed to eat slowly, chew carefully, and avoid bread and meats for a minimum of 2 weeks. The patient is also instructed to crush all pills and follow each with a good volume of liquids.


      Complications of the laparoscopic fundoplication are rare, occurring about one in a thousand patients. Mortality is much less than 1% and is equal to that of an open procedure. Injuries to the bowel can occur regardless of the technique chosen to introduce the initial port, but are unusual. Gastric or esophageal perforation can occur, as mentioned, from traumatic manipulation with the Babcock grasper, cautery, or ultrasonic injury, or during placement of the bougie. Unrecognized perforations of esophagus or stomach are the most life-threatening problems and are often related to operative inexperience. Intraoperative recognition and repair is the key to preventing life-threatening problems. Other postoperative complications such as bleeding, wound infection, pneumonia, and pulmonary embolism are all rare, and carry no additional risk over an open procedure.


      Short- and long-term relief of reflux symptoms are achieved in the vast majority of patients, with success rates of >90% consistently reported. Quality of life is also significantly improved. Although data are somewhat limited, several recent series have documented excellent control of reflux on postoperative pH testing.
      To date, there has been a single prospective randomized trial comparing outcome of antireflux surgery with modern medical therapy. In this study, a Nissen fundoplication resulted in superior symptom control, and a longer time interval to symptom recurrence compared with daily PPI therapy. Some studies also suggest that a laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication may be more cost effective in the long-term.
      Figure thumbnail GR1
      1Trochar placement for laparoscopic antireflux surgery. A total of five ports are utilized. The authors prefer 10 mm ports, although 5 mm ports may be substituted, particularly in the retraction access sites. The camera port is placed approximately one third of the distance between the umbilicus and the xyphoid. This port can either be placed in the midline or slightly to the left, passed through the rectus abdominus muscle. It is believed, although not documented that this results in a reduced prevalence of port site hernia.
      A right lateral retraction port is placed in the right mid-abdomen (mid-clavicular line), at or slightly below the camera port. A fan type retractor placed through this port is used to lift the left lateral segment of the liver anteriorly. A second retraction port is placed slightly above the level of the umbilicus, in the left anterior axillary line. This port is principally used for retraction of the GE junction.
      The left sided operating port (surgeon’s right hand) is placed 1 to 2 cm below the costal margin at approximately the lateral rectus border. The right sided operating port (surgeon’s left hand) is placed last after the left lateral segment of the liver is retracted. This prevents “sword fighting” between the liver retractor and the left handed instrument. Ideally, the left hand operating port should enter the abdomen just to the patient’s left side of the falciform ligament.
      Figure thumbnail GR2
      2Dissection of the right crus. With the fan retractor in place to retract the liver, exposure of the esophageal hiatus is obtained using a Babcock clamp introduced through the left sided retraction port, which is used to grasp the stomach just below the esophageal fat pad and GE junction. The right crus is exposed by pulling the Babcock downward and toward the patient’s left foot, and incising the gastrohepatic omentum, using either the cautery scissors or the harmonic scalpel. If possible, the hepatic branch of the vagus nerve should be preserved, and the gastrohepatic omentum should be inspected for a replaced left hepatic artery which is present in about 5% of the population. With the gastrohepatic omentum opened above and below the hepatic branch of the vagus and/or the replaced hepatic artery branch, the right side of the esophageal hiatus is visible. The peritoneum overlying the right crus is scored from front to back. A grasper placed in the surgeon’s left handed port is used to retract the crural fibers to the patient’s right, allowing identification of the esophagus which is pulled to the patient’s left. Blunt dissection supplemented with cautery when needed is used to mobilize the right side of the hiatus. This dissection is carried from the front of the hiatus to the crural decussation posteriorly.
      Figure thumbnail GR3
      3Identification of the anterior vagus nerve. The incision in the peritoneum over the right crus is continued across the anterior aspect of the hiatus. The grasper is again used to provide counter traction, this time anteriorly; using blunt dissection and cautery to mobilize the esophagus downward. This dissection continues until the fibers of the left crus are identified. As the edge of the left crus is approached, the anterior vagus nerve should be identified and dissected so that it remains with the esophagus.
      Figure thumbnail GR4
      4Mediastinal and circumferential dissection of the esophagus. With the GEJ retracted toward the patient’s right, dissection of the hiatus continues down the left crus. This dissection may need to be completed later in the procedure after mobilization of the greater curvature of the stomach in some patients. The grasper is used to pull the crus to the patient’s left, using blunt dissection and cautery to mobilize the esophagus to the right. This dissection is continued until the confluence of the right and left crura is reached.
      The GE junction is again retracted to the patient’s left and it is lifted anteriorly to allow dissection posterior to the esophagus. The posterior vagus nerve is identified, mobilizing it with the esophagus. The posterior mediastinal attachments of the GE junction area can then be safely mobilized with blunt and cautery dissection. With the esophagus circumferentially freed, a window behind the gastroesophageal junction is easily created. A Penrose drain is passed through this window from left to right and secured loosely around the esophagus with an EndoLoop. The Babcock is then moved from the proximal stomach to the Penrose to facilitate retraction. The esophageal mobilization is continued proximally as far necessary to allow complete reduction of the hernia so that the GE junction remains below the diaphragm when retraction is released.
      Figure thumbnail GR5
      5Crural closure. Crural closure is best accomplished in two stages. Unless the hiatus is unusually large, two sutures are placed before and one suture is placed after the fundoplication is completed and the Bougie is removed. The posterior crural suture is placed first. We prefer a figure of eight suture of 0 Ethibond®, but other nonabsorbable sutures have been used. The needle is passed through the right hand working port, and it is passed to the right of the patient’s esophagus, moved carefully to the left, and it is driven through the left crus, while the left-hand grasper identifies and protects the aorta that is just posterior. The needle is then placed through the right crus while the grasper in the surgeon’s left hand retracts the liver to protect it from injury. The vena cava lies immediately posterior to the right crus, and it can be injured if this suture is placed too far posteriorly. The strength of this repair depends on the integrity of the crural fibers, so that each bite should incorporate as much muscle as possible without injuring the adjacent vascular structures.
      Figure thumbnail GR6
      6Figure of eight technique of crural closure. To complete the figure of eight suture, the needle is withdrawn through the right hand operating port, it is passed back into the abdomen, and the previously described technique of suturing is repeated. The suture is secured either by tying or using a commercially available suture securing device (Tie-Knot®). This process is repeated to place additional sutures until the hiatus is loosely approximated around the esophagus. A final crural closure suture will be placed after the fundoplication is complete and the Bougie is removed.
      Figure thumbnail GR7
      7Mobilization of the greater curvature. Mobilization of the fundus and division of the short gastric vessels are essential steps in performing a properly oriented, tension-free fundoplication. To accomplish this, the fan retractor is replaced with a Babcock clamp which is used to grasp the stomach approximately one-third of the way down the greater curvature. The Babcock on the Penrose drain is moved to the omentum immediately adjacent to the other Babcock, suspending the omental attachment along the greater curvature between the two clamps. The cautery scissors is used to open the omentum in an avascular area, and the ultrasonic shears (Ethicon Endosurgery, Cincinnati, OH) are used to divide the short gastric vessels close to the gastric wall. As the dissection continues proximally, the Babcock clamps are repositioned repeatedly to maintain counter traction.
      Figure thumbnail GR8
      8Mobilization of the posterior fundus. When the superior aspect of the spleen is reached, and the last short gastric vessel is divided, the tissue between the posterior wall of the stomach and the retroperitoneum is divided. This final stage of fundic mobilization is facilitated by moving the left hand Babcock onto the posterior stomach wall, rolling the stomach anteriorly and to the patient’s right. When the fundus is completely mobilized, the previously placed crural sutures are readily visible behind the esophagogastric junction.
      Figure thumbnail GR9
      9Marking stitch placement. To ensure proper orientation and location of the fundoplication, a stitch is placed on the posterior wall of the stomach to mark the site of the fundoplication suture. This stitch is placed six centimeters down the lesser curvature and two thirds of the distance from the lesser to the greater curvature of the stomach.
      Figure thumbnail GR10
      10Delivery of the fundus behind the esophagus. The Babcock clamp in the left lower retracting port is repositioned on the Penrose drain, and the esophagus is lifted anteriorly. The previously placed marking suture on the posterior wall of the stomach is grasped with the right handed instrument and it is passed posterior to the esophagus where it can be grasped by the left hand instrument. Pulling gently on this suture, the posterior wall of the stomach can be delivered behind the esophagus in preparation for the fundoplication. Retracting the Penrose drain to the patient’s left facilitates this maneuver.
      Figure thumbnail GR11
      11Positioning the fundoplication. Babcock clamps are placed in both working ports grasping both the anterior and posterior walls of the stomach to size the fundoplication. A “shoe shine” maneuver is performed; applying gentle retraction as the fundus is pulled back and forth behind the esophagus to appropriately orient and size the fundoplication.
      Figure thumbnail GR12
      12Suturing the fundoplication. A 60-French Bougie is passed under direct visualization to properly size the fundoplication. A single U-stitch of 2–0 Prolene buttressed with felt pledgets is used to approximate the edges of the fundoplication. Each arm of the U-stitch is placed through the anterior stomach wall, through the right side of the esophagus just below the level of the hiatus, carefully avoiding the vagus nerve, and then through the posterior fundus. A second pledget is placed and the suture is either tied or secured with a Tie-knot device. Two sutures of 2–0 silk are placed just above and below the U-stitch to complete a 1.5 to 2.0 cm fundoplication.
      Figure thumbnail GR13
      13Completion of the crural closure. The Bougie is removed and the fundoplication is retracted to the patient’s left and anteriorly using the Penrose drain. The hiatal closure is reassessed by placing a grasper into the hiatus between the esophagus and the crural fibers. With the grasper open, it is withdrawn through the hiatus. There should be some resistance felt if the closure is tight enough. If not, an additional 0 Ethibond suture should be placed in front of the existing crural sutures. On completion of the crural closure the Penrose drain is removed, the field is irrigated and a nasogastric tube is placed.