What is barrett's esophagus?

Barrett's esophagus: Overview

The esophagus is the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. Food and liquids go through this tube.

In Barrett's esophagus, the cells that line the tube change. This is usually because of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD causes acid from your stomach to back up into the esophagus.

When you have Barrett's esophagus, you are slightly more likely to get cancer of the esophagus. So regular testing is important to watch for signs of this cancer.

You can treat GERD to control your symptoms and feel better.

Barrett's esophagus

In Barrett's esophagus, also called Barrett's syndrome, the cells that line the inside of the esophagus are replaced by cells like those that line the inside of the stomach. This change in the type of cell may occur with long-term exposure of the esophagus to stomach juices, such as from chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

The new cells are more resistant to stomach acid. But inflammation, sores (ulcers), and bleeding can still occur in that part of the esophagus.

You can treat GERD to control your symptoms and feel better. Having Barrett's esophagus slightly raises the risk for esophageal cancer. If Barrett's esophagus is suspected, a doctor may want to test the lining of the esophagus now and then to check for cells that may develop into cancer. These tests may include endoscopy and doing a biopsy of any cells that do not look normal.

What are the symptoms of Barrett's esophagus?

Barrett's esophagus doesn't cause symptoms. But it's usually caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The main symptom of GERD is heartburn. This is a burning feeling just behind your breastbone. You may also have regurgitation. Symptoms may be worse when you lie down or bend forward.

How is Barrett's esophagus treated?

Treatment for Barrett's esophagus with dysplasia most often involves having a procedure to remove or destroy the changing cells. There are a few ways to do this. Your doctor may:

  • Use heat to destroy the cells. This is called radiofrequency ablation.
  • Freeze the cells to destroy them. This is called cryosurgery or cryotherapy.
  • Cut out the damaged tissue. This is called endoscopic resectioning.

If you don't have dysplasia, your doctor will recommend taking medicines that treat GERD, such as proton pump inhibitors. These medicines can help reduce your risk for esophageal cancer.

How is Barrett's esophagus diagnosed?

An endoscopy test can diagnose Barrett's esophagus. During this test, the doctor uses a tube to look down your throat and into your esophagus. The doctor can also take a sample of cells to send to a lab.

How can you care for yourself when you have Barrett's esophagus?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • If you take over-the-counter medicine, such as antacids or acid reducers, follow all instructions on the label. If you use these medicines often, talk with your doctor. Be careful when you take over-the-counter antacid medicines. Many of these medicines have aspirin in them. Read the label to make sure that you are not taking more than the recommended dose. Too much aspirin can be harmful.
  • Do not smoke or chew tobacco. Smoking can make gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Avoid foods that make your symptoms worse. These may include chocolate, mint, alcohol, pepper, spicy foods, high-fat foods, or drinks with caffeine in them, such as tea, coffee, colas, or energy drinks. If your symptoms are worse after you eat a certain food, you may want to stop eating it to see if your symptoms get better.
  • Eat smaller meals, and more often. After eating, wait 2 to 3 hours before you lie down.
  • Raise the head of your bed 6 in. (15 cm) to 8 in. (20 cm) by putting blocks under the frame or a foam wedge under the head of the mattress. Adding extra pillows does not work.
  • Do not wear tight clothing around your midsection.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese. Losing just 5 to 10 pounds can help.
  • Go to regular follow-up testing, even if you don't have symptoms. It helps your doctor watch for signs of more changes that may lead to cancer.

What causes Barrett's esophagus?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause Barrett's. Acid from your stomach backs up into the esophagus and causes the cells to change.

What is Barrett's esophagus?

Barrett's esophagus is a condition in which the cells that line the esophagus start to change. Even if you don't have symptoms, it's important to keep checking on (monitor) changes in the cells. And that's because cellular changes can raise your risk for getting cancer of the esophagus.

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