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Barrett's esophagus is a disorder in which the lining of the esophagus is damaged by stomach acid. The lining becomes similar to that of the stomach.
When you eat, food passes from your throat to your stomach through the esophagus. The esophagus is also called the food pipe or swallowing tube. A ring of muscle fibers in the lower esophagus keeps stomach contents from moving backward.
If these muscles do not close tightly, harsh stomach acid can leak into the esophagus.This is called reflux or gastroesophageal reflux. It may cause tissue damage over time.
Barrett's esophagus occurs more often in men than women. People who have had GERD for a long time are more likely to have this condition.
Barrett's esophagus itself does not cause symptoms. The acid reflux that causes Barrett's esophagus often leads to symptoms of heartburn. However, many patients with this condition do not have symptoms.
Exams and Tests
The doctor may do an endoscopy if GERD symptoms are severe or come back after treatment.
A thin tube with a camera on the end is inserted through your mouth, then passed into your esophagus and stomach.
While looking at the esophagus with the endoscope, the doctor may perform biopsies in different parts of the esophagus. These biopsies help diagnose Barrett's esophagus, and look for changes that could lead to cancer.
People with Barrett's esophagus have an increased risk for esophageal cancer. However, cancer not common. Your health care provider may recommend a follow-up endoscopy to look for cell changes that indicate cancer.
TREATMENT OF GERD
Treatment should improve acid reflux symptoms, and may keep Barrett's esophagus from getting worse. Treatment may involve lifestyle changes and medicines such as:
- Antacids after meals and at bedtime
- Histamine H2 receptor blockers
- Proton pump inhibitors
- Avoiding tobacco use
Lifestyle changes, medicines, and anti-reflux surgery may help with symptoms of GERD. However, these steps will not make Barrett's esophagus go away.
TREATMENT OF BARRETT'S ESOPHAGUS
Surgery or other procedures may be recommended if a biopsy shows cell changes may cancer.
Some of the following procedures remove the harmful tissue in your esophagus:
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses a special laser device, called an esophageal balloon, along with a drug called Photofrin.
- Other procedures use different types of high energy to destroy the precancerous tissue.
- Surgery removes the abnormal lining.
Treatment should improve acid reflux symptoms and may keep Barrett's esophagus from getting worse. None of these treatments will reverse the changes that may lead to cancer.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
- Heartburn lasts for longer than a few days, or you have pain or problems swallowing.
- You have been diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus and your symptoms get worse,
- You develop new symptoms (such as weight loss, problems swallowing).
Diagnosis and treatment of GERD may prevent Barrett's esophagus.
Katz PO, Gerson LB, Vela MF. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Am J Gastroenterol. 2013;108:308-328.
Spechler SJ, Souza RF. Barrett's esophagus. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 44.
American Gastroenterological Association Medical Position Statement on the Management of Barrett's Esophagus. Gastroenterology. 2011;140(3):1084-1091.
- Last reviewed on 7/18/2013
- George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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This page was last updated: May 20, 2014