Barrett Esophagus

What is Barrett Esophagus

Barrett esophagus occurs when the tissue that lines the esophagus changes or becomes damaged. The esophagus is the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach.

With Barrett esophagus, the cells that line the esophagus are replaced by cells that are similar to the lining of the intestines (intestinal metaplasia).

Barrett esophagus itself may not cause any symptoms. However, many people who have Barrett esophagus also have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which may cause symptoms such as heartburn.

Treatment may include medicines, procedures to destroy the abnormal cells, or surgery. Over time, a few people with this condition may develop cancer of the esophagus.

What are the causes?

The exact cause of this condition is not known. In some cases, the condition develops from damage to the lining of the esophagus caused by GERD. GERD occurs when stomach acids flow up from the stomach into the esophagus. Frequent symptoms of GERD may cause intestinal metaplasia or cause cell changes (dysplasia).

What increases the risk?

The following factors may make you more likely to develop this condition:

  • Having GERD.
  • Being any of the following:
    • Male.
    • White (Caucasian).
    • Obese.
    • Older than 50.
  • Having a hiatal hernia.
  • Smoking.

What are the signs or symptoms?

People with Barrett esophagus often have no symptoms. However, many people with this condition also have GERD. Symptoms of GERD may include:

  • Heartburn.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Dry cough.

How is this diagnosed?

Barrett esophagus may be diagnosed with an exam called an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. During this exam, a thin, flexible tube (endoscope) is passed down your esophagus. The endoscope has a light and camera on the end of it. Your health care provider uses the endoscope to view the inside of your esophagus. During the exam, several tissue samples will be removed (biopsy) from your esophagus so they can be checked for intestinal metaplasia or dysplasia.

How is this treated?

Treatment for this condition may include:

  • Medicines (proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs) to decrease or stop GERD.
  • Periodic endoscopic exams to make sure that cancer is not developing.
  • A procedure or surgery for dysplasia. This may include:
    • Endoscopic removal or destruction of abnormal cells.
    • Removal of part of the esophagus (esophagectomy).

Follow these instructions at home:

Eating and drinking

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid fatty foods.
  • Eat small, frequent meals instead of large meals.
  • Avoid foods that cause heartburn. These foods include:
    • Coffee and alcoholic drinks.
    • Tomatoes and foods made with tomatoes.
    • Greasy or spicy foods.
    • Chocolate and peppermint.

General instructions

  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • Do notuse any tobacco products, such as cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and e-cigarettes. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.
  • If your health care provider is treating you for GERD, make sure you follow all instructions and take medicines as directed.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You have heartburn or GERD symptoms.
  • You have difficulty swallowing.

Get help right away if:

  • You have chest pain.
  • You are unable to swallow.
  • You vomit blood or material that looks like coffee grounds.
  • Your stool (feces) is bright red or dark.
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