Barrett's Esophagus

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Barrett’s esophagus is a complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). 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%. If you or a loved one has GERD then please maintain regular appointments with a local gastroenterologist to monitor your condition and watch for signs of Barrett's esophagus. You can find a local gastroenterologist through GI Alliance.

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
  • Being over age 50
  • Having large amounts of abdominal fat
  • Genetics
  • Smoking or having been a smoker

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)

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 gastroenterologist 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.
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If you have GERD, then going without treatment can lead to Barrett's esophagus. This serious but treatable complication of GERD can be diagnosed and managed by an expert gastroenterologist. To locate a gastroenterologist who can help partner with you to treat your GI tract conditions, like Barrett's esophagus, then contact the experts in gastroenterology at GI Alliance. As the nation's leading physician-led network of gastroenterologists, GI Alliance has the leading experts in conditions like Barrett's esophagus. Contact GI Alliance to find your expert in digestive health today.

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