What is Barrett's esophagus?
The esophagus is a tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. The esophagus is normally lined with squamous cells. When these cells are replaced by intestinal cells it is called Barrett's esophagus. This is a precancerous condition caused by repetitive damage to the esophagus lining.
What causes Barrett's esophagus?
The exact cause of Barrett's is not known, but the condition usually develops in people who have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Heartburn and acid reflux 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 an 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, 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 area of the lower 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, avoiding caffeine in coffee, tea and chocolate and alcohol.
The treatment of Barrett's esophagus also involves surveillance of the area by repeating an EGD according to national guidelines.
Seeking 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, or are vomiting blood.