What is Barrett’s Esophagus?

The esophagus may be more commonly known as the swallowing tube. This tube connects our mouths to our stomachs and when the soft, pink, lining of this tube becomes damaged by acid reflux (Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD), it thickens and becomes inflamed. This thickening can trigger a change in the cells present in the esophagus, this is known as metaplasia, it is a key marker of Barrett’s esophagus and it puts sufferers at a greater risk for developing esophageal cancer. 

What Causes Barrett’s Esophagus?

Most Barrett’s esophagus sufferers also tend to experience chronic acid reflux, in which their stomach acid rises into their esophagus regularly. However, plenty of individuals with this condition do not experience any acid reflux symptoms and it is not clearly understood why those with no history of acid reflux may also develop Barrett’s esophagus. Some risk factors are: 

  • Being over the age of 50

  • Being caucasian 

  • Being male

  • Being overweight 

  • Being a current or former smoker

  • Having GERD

 
What are the Symptoms of Barrett’s Esophagus?

Symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus include but are not limited to:

  • Frequent heartburn

  • Frequent acid reflux

  • Frequent episodes of minor acidic regurgitation 

  • Chest pain 

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Weight loss

  • Passing bloody or tarry black stool 

  • Vomit containing specks of blood 

GI issues often have symptoms that overlap with one another, so you must seek the opinion of a licensed medical professional if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above. 

How is Barrett’s Esophagus Diagnosed?

Barrett’s esophagus is diagnosed via an endoscopy. During this procedure, a thin, flexible tube fitted with a light and camera is inserted through the mouth and into the throat. This will allow the physician to obtain a visual of your esophagus. A healthy esophagus is typically pale pink and glossy. Barrett’s esophagus presents as red and velvety in texture. Should your physician deem it necessary, a small tissue sample will be taken and sent to the lab for analysis? This analysis can confirm the presence of potentially cancerous changes in the affected cells. 


What is the Treatment for Barrett’s Esophagus?

Treatment for Barrett’s esophagus depends on the degree of precancerous changes found in the esophagus cells during analysis. The stages are as follows:

No precancerous cell changes would call for yearly endoscopies for some time. If no significant changes occur, endoscopies can be spread apart every three to five years. Individuals who are also suffering from GERD would be prescribed medication to manage their acid reflux.

Low-grade precancerous cell changes or High-grade precancerous cell changes would call for endoscopies every six to twelve months. To reduce the risk of developing esophageal cancer the following steps may be taken:

 

  • Endoscopic resection in which the damaged cells are surgically removed.

  • Radiofrequency ablation in which heat is used to remove abnormal tissue.

  • Cryotherapy in which abnormal cells are put through a cycle of freezing and thawing to damage them.

How rapidly the condition progression varies from person to person, therefore it is important to remain consistent with doctor visits and remain vigilant about any physical changes you may notice in your body. 

Some recommended lifestyle changes for individuals diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus include: 

  • Eliminate foods from your diet that trigger heartburn or acid reflux 

  • Maintain a healthy weight 

  • Quit smoking 

  • Keep your head slightly elevated when lying down or sleeping


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