Barrett’s Esophagus: Five Things You Need To Know

Barrett’s Esophagus is a condition that develops from chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD causes stomach acid to back up into the esophagus, and over time tissue in the esophagus can change to become tissue similar to that in the intestines. This tissue change is the defining element of the condition. 

Here are 5 things you need to know about Barrett’s Esophagus. 

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of Barrett’s Esophagus is not known. However, a major risk factor is having GERD symptoms for 10 years or more. While some people who develop the condition have no history of GERD, it does increase the likelihood of the condition. Additionally, men, older adults, White people, overweight people, and people who smoke or have smoked are more likely to develop it. 

Barrett’s Esophagus Symptoms

Many of the symptoms people experience with Barrett’s Esophagus are the same symptoms associated with GERD. These include frequent heartburn, difficulty swallowing, upper abdominal pain, a dry cough, and chest pain. However, many people with the condition do not have any of these symptoms. 

Diagnosis

Barrett’s Esophagus is diagnosed through a procedure called an upper endoscopy. During this procedure, a physician uses an endoscope (a flexible tube with a camera) to examine the upper gastrointestinal tract. The endoscope is fed through the mouth and gives a view of any changes in the lining of the esophagus. Then, the physician may take a tissue sample of the lining, which will later be studied for any signs of metaplastic cells that can confirm a diagnosis. Since the condition doesn’t affect all areas of the esophagus, biopsy samples are taken from multiple places on the esophagus lining. 

Complications from Barrett’s Esophagus

People with Barrett’s Esophagus have an increased chance of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma, a rare type of cancer. When their esophageal tissue is replaced with intestine-like tissue (in a process called metaplasia), if the stimuli causing the metaplasia is not removed by addressing the acid reflux, dysplasia can occur. 

Dysplasia is a process where cells develop abnormally, and can lead to cancerous growth. The extent of dysplasia is diagnosed through a biopsy. Low-grade dysplasia is when cells show a small amount of change, and high-grade dysplasia is when advanced change has occurred and may lead to cancer. As a preventative step, people with Barrett’s Esophagus are often monitored through regular exams to check for precancerous cells. Procedures like ablation can be performed on precancerous cells to prevent cancerous growth. 

Treatments

Treatment for Barrett’s Esophagus varies based on the extent of the condition. For people with no or low dysplasia, lifestyle changes like eliminating heartburn triggers and maintaining healthy weight can ease symptoms. In addition, regular check-ups are often recommended to monitor any changes over time. 

When high-grade dysplasia is present, more serious interventions may be required. These treatments include removing damaged cells through an endoscopy, surgery to remove damaged parts of the esophagus, using cold therapy to damage abnormal cells, and using light therapy to destroy damaged cells.

Our experienced team at GHP has years of experience helping people manage and treat Barrett’s Esophagus. We can help establish the best plan of care for your situation. Contact any of our office locations to learn about the options we offer and schedule an appointment today.