Understanding Barrett’s Esophagus

 Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the tissue lining of the lower stomach become damaged.  The damage results in changes to the color and composition to the esophagus cells.  The damaged esophagus tissue is similar to the intestinal lining tissue.  This tissue is usually damaged from repeated exposure to stomach acid.  Barrett’s esophagus is most often found in people who have a long history of GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease.  Only a small number, between 5 and 10 percent, of people who have GERD will be diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus. 

Being diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus can be concerning because it increases the risk of developing esophageal cancer.  If you have Barrett’s esophagus your gastroenterologist will recommend periodic upper GI endoscopy (EGD) with biopsy for surveillance reasons.  Your gastroenterologist will watch for the appearance of precancerous cells.   An individual who has Barrett’s esophagus has about a 5% chance per year of developing esophageal cancer.  Usually before esophageal cancer develops, precancerous cells appear in the Barrett’s tissue.  Therefore is important that you follow the recommended surveillance EGD’s recommended by your gastroenterologist.    When precancerous cells appear this condition is called dysplasia and is classified and low grade or high grade.

Common signs and symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus are usually related to acid reflux. These symptoms may be: frequent heartburn; difficulty swallowing; chest pain; upper abdominal pain; dry cough.  Many people with Barrett’s esophagus do not have any symptoms or signs at all.  Treatment for Barrett’s esophagus varies.  Your gastroenterologist will discuss treatment options will you based on your overall health, whether dysplasia is present, and, if so, the severity of the dysplasia.  Treatment options for Barrett’s esophagus include medication, endoscopic ablative therapies, endoscopic resection, and surgery.  If you have any further questions regarding Barrett’s esophagus, please contact your gastroenterologist. 

1.  “Barrett’s Esophagus.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 25 May 2011. Web. 22 Feb 2013.
2. “Barrett’s Esophagus.” National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. NIH Publication, 22 Jan 2013. Web. 22 Feb 2013.