Barrett’s Esophagus

What is Barrett’s esophagus?

Barrett’s esophagus is when the normal cells that line your food pipe (esophagus)
turn
into cells not usually found in your esophagus. The new cells take over because the
lining of the esophagus has been damaged. The new, abnormal cells are called specialized
columnar cells.

It is
very rare that someone with this disease will get cancer of the esophagus. But having
Barrett’s esophagus may raise your risk of having esophageal cancer.

What causes Barrett’s esophagus?

You
may get Barrett’s esophagus if you have frequent heartburn that lasts for many years.
Heartburn is also called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or acid reflux disease.
You may also get it if you have swelling of the esophagus (esophagitis). These health
problems harm the lining of your esophagus. This can cause the abnormal cells to take
over.

If
you have long-term (chronic) heartburn, you are at risk for Barrett’s esophagus. Talk
with your healthcare provider.

Who is at risk for Barrett’s esophagus?

You
are at greater risk of getting Barrett’s esophagus if you are:

  • Age 50
    or older
  • Male
  • White
  • Obese
  • A
    tobacco smoker

Barrett’s esophagus is not common in children.

What are the symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus?

Each person’s symptoms may vary. Some
people with Barrett’s esophagus have no symptoms. Others have symptoms caused by GERD.
These include:

  • Heartburn
  • Regurgitation
  • Trouble swallowing

In some cases, you may not have any
symptoms. Or the signs of Barrett’s esophagus may look like other health problems.
Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is Barrett’s esophagus diagnosed?

Your
healthcare provider will give you a physical exam. He or she will also do a test called
an endoscopy. During the test, your provider will put a long, thin tube (endoscope)
in
your mouth and push it down into your esophagus.

The
endoscope has a small camera and tools. Your healthcare provider uses the camera to
see
the lining of your esophagus. He or she will use the tools to remove a small tissue
sample (a biopsy). This tissue sample will be sent to a lab. It will be checked to
see
if your normal cells have been taken over by abnormal cells.

If you are having trouble swallowing, your healthcare provider may also do an upper
GI (gastrointestinal) barium study. This test may show if you have a narrowing (stricture)
of the esophagus. This narrowing happens when the damaged lining of the esophagus
gets thick and hard.