What is Barrett’s Esophagus?
Barrett’s esophagus is a complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Barrett’s Esophagus occurs when the normal tissue that lines the esophagus changes to resemble the tissue that lines your intestines. Even though the risk of esophageal cancer increases with those who have Barrett’s Esophagus the risk of getting cancer from Barrett’s Esophagus is less than 1%.
Who Gets Barrett’s Esophagus?
The primary risk factor for Barrett’s Esophagus is long-term untreated gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Not everyone that has GERD develops Barrett’s Esophagus but if the acid reflux is not managed, over time it is likely that someone will develop Barrett’s.
Factors of higher risk include:
- Being a male
- Being a caucasian
- Over age 50
- Large amounts of abdominal fat
- Smoking or have been a smoker
Symptoms of Barrett’s Esophagus
There are no specific symptoms associated with the tissue change of Barrett’s Esophagus.
Many times, people with Barrett’s esophagus do not have any signs or symptoms.
If you have been experiencing acid reflux or other similar symptoms for long periods of time, we suggest consulting and being tested by your gastroenterologist. The only sure method to know if you have Barrett’s Esophagus is to do a front-end endoscopy and run a biopsy of the tissue in your esophagus.
Common symptoms associated with Barrett’s Esophagus:
- Persistent heartburn (acid reflux)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chest pain (less common)
What are the treatments for Barrett’s Esophagus?
Treatment for Barrett’s Esophagus is unique to other gastrointestinal conditions. The type of treatment you receive depends on the degree of abnormal cell growth, known as dysplasia, in your esophagus.
The different degrees of dysplasia (abnormal cell growth) and possible treatments are:
- No dysplasia- Even if no precancerous cells are present, it is still important to schedule regular endoscopies with your gastroenterologists to check for changes in precancerous tissues. Your physician will also most likely recommend treatments similar to those who have GERD (such as lifestyle changes, or medication).
- Low-grade dysplasia- With a low amount of abnormal cell growth you can expect to receive endoscopic resection or radiofrequency ablation for treatment.
- High-grade dysplasia- For a greater amount of precancerous tissue, cryotherapy, photodynamic therapy, or surgery might be necessary.