Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the lining of the esophagus becomes damaged, usually by acid reflux, heatburn, or GERD. This damage causes the lining to thicken and become red, resembling the lining of the intestine. About 10% of those who have GERD also experience Barrett’s esophagus. There is increased risk for Barrett’s esophagus in people who have had GERD for a longer time or who developed it at a very young age. The severity of an individual case of GERD, however, does not appear to affect the risk for Barrett’s esophagus.
Risk factors for developing Barrett’s esophagus include:
Symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus are the same symptoms of GERD:
When GERD is worse at night, it also presents with these symptoms:
There are also cases of Barrett’s esophagus in patients who never experienced symptoms of GERD. These patients show a condition called “silent reflux”.
When Barrett’s esophagus is suspected, physicians can perform a variety of imaging tests, including the less-invasive capsule endoscopy. Diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus, however, can only be made during an upper endoscopy procedure. During the endoscopy, a physician will not only detect the change in the lining of the esophagus, but also take a tissue sample to confirm the diagnosis through biopsy of the affected tissue. While capsule endoscopy can provide strong evidence in video imagery, an upper endoscopy will still need to be performed for collection of a tissue sample.
Complications from Barrett’s esophagus can include dysplasia and esophageal cancer. Dysplasia is the presence of abnormal tissue cells. Dysplasia, while not necessarily cancer, can become cancer. Patients with Barrett’s esophagus do have increased risk of esophageal cancer; however this risk is small, even in cases with precancerous cells in the esophagus. However, your physician will likely screen for esophageal cancer more frequently after a diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus.
Treatment of Barrett’s esophagus can vary, but will most likely include monitoring, possible medications, and increased screenings for esophageal cancer. Physicians may also decide to remove the enflamed, abnormal esophagus tissue through endoscopic procedures.