Barrett’s esophagus is a disorder in which the lining of the esophagus is damaged by stomach acid. It is a common side effect of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. People with Barrett’s esophagus have an increased risk for esophageal cancer.
Causes. Acid reflux and GERD are the two main causes of Barrett's esophagus. When we eat, food passes from our throats to our stomachs through the esophagus. A ring of muscle fibers in the lower esophagus keeps stomach contents from moving backward. If these muscles do not close tightly, harsh stomach acid can leak into the esophagus. Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid splashes back into the esophagus, while GERD happens when the acid irritates and inflames the esophagus.
Around 1 in 10 people with acid reflux (10%) will go on to develop Barrett's esophagus.
Signs and Symptoms. Many people with this condition do not have any symptoms. However, the acid reflux that causes Barrett’s esophagus often leads to symptoms of heartburn and indigestion.
Diagnosis. To diagnose Barrett’s esophagus, patients normally undergo an endoscopy. During the endoscopy, the health care provider may take tissue samples from different parts of your esophagus. These biopsies help diagnose the condition and look for mutations that could lead to cancer. People with Barrett esophagus are recommended to have follow-up endoscopy every 3 to 5 years if abnormal cells are found.
Treatment. There are a number of available options for treating Barrett’s esophagus. The main aim is to reduce acid reflux and control its symptoms. Lifestyle changes (e.g. changes in diet) and taking medications are some of the ways to reduce the amount of acid in your stomach. Other forms of treatment may aim to remove or strengthen the affected area. You may ask your doctor about the options available to you.