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Barrett’s Esophagus

Glenn tells about his experience with severe heartburn and his diagnosis of Barrett’s Esophagus in this series of interviews with patients at Borland-Groover Clinic.

Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the cells lining the lower esophagus become damaged, usually due to stomach acid exposure over a long period of time.

Understanding how the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract works will help you better understand how Barrett’s esophagus develops. When you swallow, foods and liquids travel from your mouth through the esophagus, a hollow muscular tube, to your stomach. At the end of the esophagus, there is a ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter, which closes tightly to keep the stomach’s contents from rising back up. This is important, because the acids produced in the stomach are harmful to the lining of the esophagus.

When this ring of muscle does not function properly, the stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus, in a condition called gastroesophageal reflux, also know as “acid reflux”. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious, chronic form of gastroesophageal reflux. Acid from the stomach causes inflammation that damages the lining of the esophagus.

Who is at Risk for Barrett’s Esophagus?

The exact cause of Barrett’s Esophagus is not fully understood, but long-term GERD is the number one risk factor. Not all people with GERD get Barrett’s esophagus. It develops in less than 10% of people with GERD, and it is more common in people who have had GERD for a long time or who were diagnosed with it at a young age.

Twice as many men as women develop Barrett’s esophagus, and it is more common in Caucasians than other races. The average age at diagnosis is 55 years old. Other risk factors that are associated with Barrett’s esophagus are obesity (especially excess belly fat) and cigarette smoking. Some studies suggest that there may be genetic (hereditary) risk.

Frequent Heartburn is one symptom that’s common.

What are the Symptoms of Barrett’s Esophagus?

Barrett’s esophagus itself does not have any specific symptoms. Some people experience symptoms of GERD, while some people do not experience any symptoms at all. Some of the symptoms that are associated with GERD or acid reflux include:

  • Hoarseness
  • Chest Pain
  • Frequent heartburn, or burning sensation behind breastbone
  • Regurgitation, sour taste in the back of throat
  • Upper abdominal pain, pain in pit of stomach
  • Nausea
  • Chronic dry cough
  • If not treated properly, GERD can lead to more serious symptoms, like:

  • Dysphagia - difficulty swallowing food
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding - vomiting blood or having bloody stools
  • Anemia - from slow loss of blood over time
  • How is Barrett’s Esophagus diagnosed?

    There are 2 steps necessary to diagnose Barrett’s Esophagus: endoscopy and biopsy.

    How is Barrett’s Esophagus treated?

    There are 3 main categories of endoscopic eradication therapy for Barrett’s Esophagus.