Barrett’s esophagus is a condition where the tissue lining of the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach) is damaged usually from exposure to stomach acid (reflux). The tissue is changed to tissue similar to the lining of the intestine. This process is called intestinal metaplasia. Signs and symptoms are usually related to acid reflux and may include: frequent heartburn, difficulty swallowing food, chest pain, upper abdominal pain or dry cough. Reflux is a common medical condition and most people with reflux don’t develop Barrett’s esophagus.
When reflux occurs a lot, and over a long times period, the condition is called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). A person can have Barrett’s esophagus without having GERD. This condition, however, is found three to five times more often in people who also have GERD.
People with Barrett’s esophagus have an increased risk of esophageal cancer, but the disease is rare. Less than 1% of people develop this kind of cancer. It is important, however, to have regular exams so any cells that might develop into cancer, or any cancer cells, are caught early before they can spread.
Barrett’s esophagus can only be found with an upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy (Upper Endoscopy). This same test may be done if the patient already has Barrett’s Esophagus but the doctor is watching for any signs of cancer.
Right now there are no treatments to reverse the damage done to cells in the esophagus from Barrett’s esophagus. People with Barrett’s esophagus should have regular endoscopic exams to check for cancer. Endoscopic or surgical treatments can treat cells so that normal tissue can grow and replace the lining that was destroyed.
If Barrett’s esophagus is found to have severe dysplasia or cancer, surgery can be done to remove most of the esophagus and attach it to the stomach. This surgery has some risks so other treatments are preferred.