Barrett's Esophagus

Barrett’s esophagus is a condition often caused by long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which the lining of the esophagus is damaged by exposure to stomach acid, making the lining more like the lining of the stomach. While Barrett’s is caused by GERD, only a small portion of patients who suffer from GERD develop Barrett’s.

Barrett’s can be concerning because of its association with a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer. However, the risk of cancer is small, and can be monitored by timely exams to search for precancerous esophageal cells.  

Causes

Typically, a ring of muscles keeps stomach acid in the stomach where it belongs, so it doesn’t move upward into the esophagus. However, with gastroesophageal reflux, these muscles do not close tightly and allow stomach acid to move back into the esophagus. Reflux can often cause symptoms of heartburn.

Symptoms

Since Barrett’s esophagus is hard to detect without a test, many that have it don’t often have any specific symptoms that go along with it. The acid reflux that causes Barrett’s, however, will more than likely produce heartburn.

Testing

Barrett’s esophagus is tested with an endoscopy. An endoscopy is performed with a thin tube with a camera on the end of it, inserted into the mouth. The tube can then move into the esophagus and the stomach. During the endoscopy, a doctor may take biopsies, collecting small samples of tissue to test for precancerous cells.

Treatment

Since Barrett’s is an acquired condition, most treatment revolves around GERD, rather than Barrett’s. Doctors may recommend lifestyle and diet changes to improve the reflux, along with antacids, histamine receptor antagonists and proton pump inhibitors. PPIs improve reflux by shutting down the cellular pumps in your stomach that produce acid.

However, none of these treatments can fix Barrett’s esophagus, which may be addressed via surgery to remove the damaged lining of the esophagus.

If you feel you are suffering from symptoms of GERD such as excessive heartburn and acid reflux, you should contact your doctor. To read more about Barrett’s esophagus, visit The American College of Gastroenterology.