Diagnosis and Screening

Barrett's esophagus can only be diagnosed by an upper GI endoscopy to obtain biopsies of the esophagus. At present, it cannot be diagnosed on the basis of symptoms, physical exam, or blood tests. In an upper GI endoscopy, a flexible tube called an endoscope, which has a light and miniature camera, is passed into the esophagus. If the tissue appears suspicious, then biopsies must be done. A biopsy is the removal of a small piece of tissue using a pincher-like device passed through the endoscope. A pathologist examines the tissue under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis.

Looking for a medical problem in people who do not know whether they have one is called screening. Currently, there are no commonly accepted guidelines on who should have endoscopy to check for Barrett's esophagus. Among the many reasons for the lack of firm recommendations about screening are the great expense and occasional risk of side effects of the test. Also, the rate of finding Barrett's esophagus is low, and finding the problem early has not been proven to prevent deaths from cancer.

Many physicians recommend that adult patients who are over the age of 40 and have had GERD symptoms for a number of years have endoscopy to see whether they have Barrett's esophagus. Screening for this condition in people who have no symptoms is not recommended.

For patient inquiries, call 1-800-492-5538 or If you prefer, you may call the division directly at 410-328-5780.

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