Barrett’s Esophagus

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Barrett’s Esophagus is a condition in which the tissue and cells lining the esophagus – the muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach-change in color and composition-usually because of repeated exposure to stomach acid.

Barrett’s Esophagus is most often diagnosed in people who have long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – a chronic regurgitation of acid from the stomach into the lower esophagus. Only a small percentage of people with GERD will develop Barrett’s esophagus.

Symptoms

Many people with Barrett’s esophagus have no signs or symptoms. However, because Barrett’s Esophagus is commonly found in people with GERD, symptoms may be related to acid reflux and may include:

  • Frequent heartburn
  • Difficulty swallowing food
  • Chest pain
  • Black, tarry stools
  • Vomiting blood

Barrett’s and Esophageal Cancer

A small number of people with Barrett’s Esophagus develop a rare but often deadly type of cancer of the esophagus. Although the risk of esophageal cancer is small, monitoring and treatment of Barrett’s esophagus focuses on periodic exams to find precancerous esophagus cells. If precancerous cells are discovered, they can be treated to prevent esophageal cancer. Barrett’s Esophagus may be present for several years before cancer develops.
Physicians of the Digestive Disease Center make use of a new endoscopic treatment now available to ablate or kill the Barrett’s cells. This treatment is called the HALOProcedure.

Diagnosis

Because Barrett’s Esophagus does not cause any symptoms, many physicians recommend that adults older than 40 who have had GERD for a number of years undergo an endoscopy and biopsies to check for the condition.
Barrett’s Esophagus can only be diagnosed using an upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy to obtain biopsies of the esophagus. In an upper GI Endoscopy, after the patient is sedated, the doctor inserts a flexible tube called an endoscope, which has a light and a miniature camera, into the esophagus. If the tissue appears suspicious, the doctor removes several small pieces using a pincher-like device that is passed through the endoscope. A pathologist examines the tissue with a microscope to determine the diagnosis.
Barrett’s Esophagus affects about 1 percent of adults in the United States. The average age at diagnosis is 50. Men develop Barrett’s esophagus twice as often as women. Caucasian men are affected more frequently than men of other races. Barrett’s esophagus is not common in children.

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