What happens when the cells in your esophagus morph into different cells imitating those in the intestinal lining? Though it may sound like a weird science-fiction film, what we’re talking about is a very real condition called Barrett’s Esophagus.
Barrett’s esophagus is a serious condition in which the normal tissue lining your esophagus changes to become more like the tissue lining the intestine.
It’s estimated that about 10% of people diagnosed with chronic symptoms of Gastroesophageal reflux disease—or GERD—develop Barrett’s Esophagus. GERD refers to a chronic disease in which acid regurgitates from the stomach into your lower esophagus. While the cause of Barrett’s esophagus is unknown, when a person has GERD, stomach contents regularly rise back into the esophagus, which can eventually change the type of cells found in Barrett’s Esophagus.
Symptoms of Barrett’s Esophagus
The tissue changes that are characteristic of the disease display no symptoms. The signs and symptoms people experience are generally those typical of GERD such as difficulty swallowing, frequent heartburn, or even chest pain. Still most people with Barrett’s Esophagus exhibit no signs or symptoms of the disease.
Risk Factors for Barrett’s Esophagus
There are some health, demographic and lifestyle factors that may increase your chances of developing Barrett’s Esophagus, including:
Age – Barrett’s Esophagus is common in older adults
Gender – men are more likely to develop Barrett’s esophagus
Chronic heartburn and acid reflux – having GERD can increase your risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus
Weight – being overweight is a risk factor for the disease
Smoking – regular smoking can increase your chances of the disease
Diagnosing Barrett’s Esophagus
Your doctor or specialist will use a procedure known as an upper endoscopy to diagnose Barrett’s Esophagus. During this process, your doctor will insert a tube with a camera and light at the end into your throat and look for irregularities on a screen.
Complications of Barrett’s Esophagus
Barrett’s Esophagus is associated with a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer. Still the risk is low and most people with Barrett’s Esophagus will never develop esophageal cancer, but for those with Barrett’s esophagus it’s something to monitor. Ensure your doctor knows of any changes to your condition.
The treatment for Barrett’s Esophagus is similar to the treatment your doctor would prescribe for GERD. It may begin with recommendations of lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise or quitting smoking. Treatment may also include medications or for more complicated cases, even surgery. If you are experiencing the frequent discomfort of persistent acid reflux or GERD, visit the specialists at Tampa Bay Reflux Center and get your health back on track!