Barrettes Esophagus

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Overview

Barrett's esophagus is a condition in which the flat pink lining of the swallowing tube that connects the mouth to the stomach (esophagus) becomes damaged by acid reflux, which causes the lining to thicken and become red.


Between the esophagus and the stomach is a critically important valve, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Over time, the LES may begin to fail, leading to acid and chemical damage of the esophagus, a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is often accompanied by symptoms such as heartburn or regurgitation. In some people, this GERD may trigger a change in the cells lining the lower esophagus, causing Barrett's esophagus.


Barrett's esophagus is associated with an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer. Although the risk of developing esophageal cancer is small, it's important to have regular checkups with careful imaging and extensive biopsies of the esophagus to check for precancerous cells (dysplasia). If precancerous cells are discovered, they can be treated to prevent esophageal cancer.


Symptoms

The development of Barrett's esophagus is most often attributed to long-standing GERD, which may include these signs and symptoms:


Frequent heartburn and regurgitation of stomach contents

Difficulty swallowing food

Less commonly, chest pain

Curiously, approximately half of the people diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus report little if any symptoms of acid reflux. So, you should discuss your digestive health with your doctor regarding the possibility of Barrett's esophagus.


When to see a doctor

If you've had trouble with heartburn, regurgitation and acid reflux for more than five years, then you should ask your doctor about your risk of Barrett's esophagus.


Seek immediate help if you:


Have chest pain, which may be a symptom of a heart attack

Have difficulty swallowing

Are vomiting red blood or blood that looks like coffee grounds

Are passing black, tarry or bloody stools

Are unintentionally losing weight


Causes

Family history. Your odds of having Barrett's esophagus increase if you have a family history of Barrett's esophagus or esophageal cancer.

Being male. ...

Being white. ...

Age. ...

Chronic heartburn and acid reflux. ...

Current or past smoking.

Being overweight.

Risk factors

Family history. Your odds of having Barrett's esophagus increase if you have a family history of Barrett's esophagus or esophageal cancer.

Being male. ...

Being white. ...

Age. ...

Chronic heartburn and acid reflux. ...

Current or past smoking.

Being overweight.

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Complications

One potential complication of Barrett's esophagus is that, over time, the abnormal esophageal lining can develop early precancerous changes. The early changes may progress to advanced precancerous changes, and finally to frank esophageal cancer. If undetected, this cancer can spread and invade surrounding tissues.

Prevention

The best way to keep the lining of your esophagus healthy is to address heartburn or GERD symptoms. People with ongoing, untreated heartburn are much more likely to develop Barrett's esophagus. Untreated heartburn raises the risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma by 64 times.

Get treated for reflux or Barrett's esophagus. Treating people with reflux may help prevent Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer. Often, reflux is treated with changes in diet and lifestyle (for example, weight loss for overweight individuals), as well as drugs called H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).