The esophagus is the muscular tube connecting the mouth to the stomach. With Barrett’s esophagus, the esophageal lining changes to resemble the lining of the small intestine rather than the esophagus. These changes occur near the junction of the esophagus and stomach. A small percentage of Barrett’s patients have an increased risk of developing a precancerous tissue change that can become esophageal cancer.
The development of Barrett’s Esophagus is usually associated with long term acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD allows repeated contact between stomach acid and the lining of the esophagus. It is thought that, overtime, this results in inflammation, erosion, and scarring of the esophagus.
Only about 10% of GERD patients will develop Barrett’s Esophagus. It occurs more in men than women and the risk of development increases after the age of 50.
There are no symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus, but symptoms of the common related condition of GERD include chronic symptoms of heartburn, coughing, throat irritation, hoarseness, even dental decay found in the back teeth.
Screening and Diagnosis
There are no specific guidelines for screening GERD patients for Barrett’s esophagus. Individual cases are evaluated based on severity of long term symptoms. An upper endoscopy (EGD) is used to diagnose and monitor Barrett’s esophagus.
A proton-pump inhibitor (PPI) is used to control GERD symptoms. Long term use of PPIs should be done under a doctor’s supervision. If any precancerous changes are discovered during monitoring, there are several endoscopic procedures used to treat the tissue. Your gastroenterologist will discuss treatment options that are right for your individual case.