The esophagus is a tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Barrett esophagus is a condition that results in a change in the cells in the lower part of this tube. This change puts a person at higher risk for getting cancer in that part of the esophagus.
The exact cause is not known. In some people, it may be caused by a backup of stomach acid into the tube. This is also known gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
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This problem is more common in men, people who are White, and people at least 50 years of age. Other things that may raise the risk are:
- A history of heartburn or GERD
- Obesity, especially around the midsection
- History of smoking or smoking currently
- Having other family members with this problem
- A history of hiatal hernia
Barrett esophagus does not cause symptoms. People with it often have symptoms of stomach acid reflux, such as:
- A feeling of burning in the chest, especially after eating
- Stomach content that flows back into the mouth
- Sour taste in the mouth
- Problems swallowing food
The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may want to test for Barrett esophagus if there is a history of heartburn or GERD.
The area will need to be viewed. This can be done with:
The cells that have already been damaged cannot be changed. The goal of treatment is to stop the disease from hurting more cells. Choices are:
- Watching the problem to look for changes
- Medicine to keep stomach acid from hurting the esophagus, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
- Surgery to remove:
- Unhealthy cells using laser light or radio waves
- Part of the esophagus
To lower the risk of this health problem:
- Manage symptoms of heartburn and GERD
- Avoid food and drinks that can make GERD worse, such as tea, coffee, alcohol, fatty foods, peppermint, and chocolate
- Avoid smoking
- Keep a healthy weight
- Barrett esophagus. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/barrett-esophagus.
- Barrett's esophagus. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/barretts-esophagus.
- Shaheen, N.J., Falk, G.W., et al. ACG Clinical Guideline: Diagnosis and Management of Barrett's Esophagus. Am J Gastroenterol, 2016; 111 (1): 30-50.
- Marcin Chwistek, MD
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