What is Barrett's Esophagus?
Barrett’s Esophagus is a medical condition during which the tissue lining the esophagus is replaced by tissue that is similar to the lining of the intestine and stomach. This process, called metaplasia, affects approximately 1% of US adults. While there are no external symptoms of Barrett’s Esophagus, it is commonly found in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition has been proven to be associated with a rare, but increasing, form of esophageal cancer (Adenocarcinoma). Diagnosing Barrett’s Esophagus can best be performed through an endoscopic procedure. A gastroenterologist will obtain a small sample of tissues using the upper endoscope. This tissue is then examined by a pathologist to determine the diagnosis.
What Causes Barrett's Esophagus?
While the exact cause of Barrett’s Esophagus is not known, GERD is seen as a risk factor for the condition. People without GERD can still develop Barrett’s Esophagus, but it is three to five times more common in patients with GERD. Because of this association, it is recommended that if you have persistent and frequent heartburn or GERD, it should be treated.
How is Barrett's Esophagus Treated?
If you are diagnosed with Barrett’s Esophagus, your gastroenterologist at the Ambulatory Center for Endoscopy and Colonoscopy, LLC (ACE) will discuss treatment options with you. These treatments involve endoscopic procedures, photodynamic therapy, as well as standard acid suppressive medication and close monitoring. Each of these therapeutic procedures will remove or destroy the Barrett’s lining, dysplasia, and precancerous tissue. The goal of these procedures is to remove the affected lining and encourage normal esophageal tissue to grow. For patients with severe dysplasia or cancer, surgery to remove portions of the esophagus may be recommended. The diagnosis of Barrett’s Esophagus is associated with a 15% lifetime risk of developing cancer. Patients with Barrett’s Esophagus will have surveillance endoscopies with multiple biopsies of the affected tissue at scheduled intervals to detect changes in the lining that are suspicious for progression to cancer. The finding of precancerous or cancerous cells will lead to more aggressive treatments or surgery.
What Does Barrett's Esophagus Mean to My Health?
Because Barrett’s Esophagus can lead to possible esophageal cancer, it is recommended that you undergo treatment and make modifications to your diet and lifestyle, just as you would to treat GERD or severe heartburn. You may be prescribed medications to treat the condition as well.