A precancerous condition caused by repetitive damage to the esophagus lining.
What is Barrett's esophagus?
The esophagus is a tubular portion of the intestinal tract that connects the mouth to the stomach. The esophagus is normally lined with flat cells called squamous cells. When these cells, over the course of many years, are exposed to strong acid, weak acid and bile, the squamous cells can be replaced by taller intestinal-type cells in a process called metaplastic change. We call this change “Barrett’s esophagus”. This change in the esophageal cellular lining to Barrett’s esophagus is a precancerous condition caused by repetitive acid and bile exposure to the esophagus lining.
What causes Barrett’s esophagus?
Barrett’s esophagus usually develops in people who have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Heartburn and regurgitation are the most common symptoms of GERD and result from stomach contents washing back into the esophagus. Risk factors for Barrett’s esophagus also include age greater than 55, male gender, Caucasian and Hispanic backgrounds and smokers.
What are the symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus?
Barrett’s esophagus itself does not produce symptoms, but most people seek help because of symptoms related to GERD such as heartburn or regurgitation, and less commonly, difficulty swallowing.
How is Barrett's esophagus diagnosed?
A doctor uses an endoscope to perform an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD). It may also be called a gastroscopy or upper endoscopy. During this procedure the doctor takes small samples (biopsies) of tissue from the esophagus. The biopsies are sent to the pathology laboratory where the pathologist (a physician who specializes in looking at specimens through a microscope) determines if the tissue shows changes at the cellular level in the affected area of the esophagus.
What is the treatment for Barrett's?
Treatment for Barrett's esophagus may start with controlling GERD by making a number of lifestyle changes. These actions include losing weight, avoiding foods that aggravate heartburn, smoking cessation if you smoke, taking antacids or stronger acid-blocking medications, and elevating the head of your bed to prevent reflux during sleep.
The treatment of Barrett's esophagus also involves surveillance of the area by repeating an EGD according to national guidelines.
New treatment options such as BARRX Halo procedure uses technology called radiofrequency ablation to burn off the cells of Barrett’s esophagus, often resulting in a complete cure.
When to seek medical advice
See your doctor if you've had long-term trouble with heartburn and acid reflux. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you have difficulty swallowing.