Barrett's esophagus is a condition in which the cells of your lower esophagus become damaged, usually from repeated exposure to stomach acid. The damage causes changes to the color and composition of the esophagus cells.
Barrett's esophagus is most often diagnosed in people who have long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) — a chronic regurgitation of acid from the stomach into the lower esophagus. Only a small percentage of people with GERD will develop Barrett's esophagus.
A diagnosis of Barrett's esophagus can be concerning because it increases the risk of developing esophageal cancer. Although the risk of esophageal cancer is small, monitoring of Barrett's esophagus focuses on periodic exams to find precancerous esophagus cells. If precancerous cells are discovered, they can be treated to prevent esophageal cancer.
In Barrett's esophagus, normal esophageal cells are replaced with abnormal cells. Barrett's esophagus is thought to be caused by long-standing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which causes ...
Barrett's esophagus signs and symptoms are usually related to acid reflux and may include:
Many people with Barrett's esophagus have no signs or symptoms.
When to see a doctor
Seek immediate medical attention if you:
The exact cause of Barrett's esophagus isn't known. Most people with Barrett's esophagus have long-standing GERD. It's thought that GERD causes stomach contents to wash back into the esophagus, causing damage to the esophagus. As the esophagus tries to heal itself, the cells can change to the type of cells found in Barrett's esophagus.
Still, some people diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus have never experienced heartburn or acid reflux. It's not clear what causes Barrett's esophagus in these cases.
Factors that increase your risk of Barrett's esophagus include:
Increased risk of esophageal cancer
Studies of people with Barrett's esophagus show most think their risk of esophageal cancer is much higher than it really is. This causes needless worry and anxiety.
If you're worried about your risk of esophageal cancer, ask your doctor to explain your chances of developing the disease. Also ask what you can do to reduce your risk. This may help you feel more in control of your health.
Esophageal cancer most often occurs in the cells that line the inside of the esophagus. ...
Preparing for your appointment
Barrett's esophagus is most often diagnosed in people with GERD who undergo endoscopy exams to look for GERD complications. If your doctor has discovered Barrett's esophagus on an endoscopy exam, you may be referred to a doctor who treats digestive diseases (gastroenterologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important, in case time runs out. For Barrett's esophagus, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared, don't hesitate to ask questions that come to mind during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Diagnosing Barrett's esophagus
Determining the degree of tissue changes
The type of dysplasia detected in your esophageal tissue determines your treatment options.
Barrett's esophagus diagnosis
Barrett's esophagus has a distinct appearance when viewed during an endoscopy exam. During endoscopy, the doctor passes a lighted tube with a camera down your throat and into your esophagus. The ...
Treatments and drugs
Your treatment options for Barrett's esophagus depend on whether high-grade or low-grade dysplasia is found in the cells of your esophagus, your overall health and your own preferences.
Treatment for people with no dysplasia or low-grade dysplasia
Treatment for people with high-grade dysplasia
If you undergo treatment other than surgery to remove your esophagus, there's a chance that Barrett's esophagus can recur. For this reason, your doctor may recommend continuing to take acid-reducing medications and having periodic endoscopy exams.
Surgery for GERD may involve a procedure to reinforce the lower esophageal sphincter called Nissen fundoplication. In this procedure, the surgeon wraps the top of the stomach around the lower ...
Lifestyle and home remedies
Most people diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus experience frequent heartburn and acid reflux. Medications can control these signs and symptoms, but changes to your daily life also may help. Consider trying to:
Coping and support
If you've been diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus, you may worry about your risk of esophageal cancer. You may experience anxiety and worry with each new sign or symptom. With time, you'll discover ways of coping with a Barrett's esophagus diagnosis. Until then, consider trying to:
Last Updated: 2011-05-25
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