Barrett’s Esophagus

Barrett’s Esophagus

GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a condition characterized by frequent heartburn and acid reflux. If left untreated, GERD can lead to a serious health complication known as Barrett’s Esophagus.

What is Barrett’s Esophagus?

Barrett’s Esophagus refers to the tissues in the lining of the esophagus changing to more closely resemble the tissue in the lining of the intestine. People with Barrett’s Esophagus are at an increased risk for developing esophageal adenocarcinoma, a serious and potentially fatal cancer of the esophagus.

What causes Barrett’s Esophagus?

Patients with GERD suffer from frequent acid reflux, when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus. Over time, repeated exposure to stomach acid can cause unnatural changes to the tissues in the esophagus. People who suffer from frequent nighttime reflux are at a higher risk for Barrett’s Esophagus because of the prolonged exposure to the harmful stomach acids.

What are the symptoms of Barrett’s Esophagus?

There are no symptoms to indicate that the tissues in your esophagus are changing or have changed because of continued exposure to stomach acid. People who have a long history of GERD symptoms are most likely to suffer from Barrett’s Esophagus.

Symptoms of GERD include:

  • heartburn
  • burning sensation in the back of the throat
  • chronic cough
  • laryngitis
  • “wet” burps or regurgitation

Because there are no specific symptoms for Barrett’s Esophagus, doctors often recommend that patients over 40 who have a long history of GERD be routinely screened for Barrett’s Esophagus. An upper endoscopy and biopsy are used to diagnose this condition.

What are the treatment options for Barrett’s Esophagus?

It is rare, even for people who suffer from GERD, to develop Barrett’s Esophagus or esophageal adenocarcinoma. However, if you are diagnosed with Barrett’s Esophagus, there are treatment options available. Your physician’s immediate goal will probably be to treat GERD, the underlying cause of the condition, through lifestyle changes, medication, or surgery. There are also surgical procedures available to remove abnormal cells that may have already developed. In advanced cases, it’s possible to completely remove the esophagus.

Because of the risk for serious complications like Barrett’s Esophagus, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you have frequent heartburn or acid reflux that has not responded to changes in your diet. Your physician can talk to you about further treatment options that can provide relief for your symptoms and prevent further damage.

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