Barrett's Esophagus

Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which tissue that is similar to the lining of your intestine replaces the tissue lining your esophagus. Doctors call this process intestinal metaplasia.

Doctors call this process intestinal metaplasia.

Men develop Barrett’s esophagus twice as often as women, and Caucasian men develop this condition more often than men of other races. The average age at diagnosis is 55. Barrett’s esophagus is uncommon in children.

Experts don’t know the exact cause of Barrett’s esophagus. However, some factors can increase or decrease your chance of developing Barrett’s esophagus.

Having GERD increases your chances of developing Barrett’s esophagus. GERD is a more serious, chronic form of gastroesophageal reflux, a condition in which stomach contents flow back up into your esophagus. Refluxed stomach acid that touches the lining of your esophagus can cause heartburn and damage the cells in your esophagus.

Between 5 and 10 percent of people with GERD develop Barrett’s esophagus.

Obesity—specifically high levels of belly fat—and smoking also increase your chances of developing Barrett’s esophagus. Some studies suggest that your genetics, or inherited genes, may play a role in whether or not you develop Barrett’s esophagus.

 

While Barrett’s esophagus itself doesn’t cause symptoms, many people with Barrett’s esophagus have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which does cause symptoms. 

Doctors diagnose Barrett’s esophagus with an upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy and a biopsy. Doctors may diagnose Barrett’s esophagus while performing tests to find the cause of a patient’s gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms. 

Your doctor will ask you to provide your medical history. Your doctor may recommend testing if you have multiple factors that increase your chances of developing Barrett’s esophagus. 

Your doctor will talk about the best treatment options for you based on your overall health, whether you have dysplasia and its severity. Treatment options include medicines for GERD, endoscopic ablative therapies, endoscopic mucosal resection, and surgery. 

Periodic surveillance endoscopy

Your doctor may use upper gastrointestinal endoscopy with a biopsy periodically to watch for signs of cancer development. Doctors call this approach surveillance. 

Experts aren’t sure how often doctors should perform surveillance endoscopies. Talk with your doctor about what level of surveillance is best for you. Your doctor may recommend endoscopies more frequently if you have high-grade dysplasia rather than low-grade or no dysplasia. 

Medicines

If you have Barrett’s esophagus and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), your doctor will treat you with acid-suppressing medicines called proton pump inhibitors(PPIs). These medicines can prevent further damage to your esophagus and, in some cases, heal existing damage. 

All of these medicines are available by prescription. Omeprazole and lansoprazole are also available in over-the-counter strength.

Your doctor may consider anti-reflux surgery if you have GERD symptoms and don’t respond to medicines. However, research has not shown that medicines or surgery for GERD and Barrett’s esophagus lower your chances of developing dysplasia oresophageal adenocarcinoma.

Endoscopic ablative therapies

Endoscopic ablative therapies use different techniques to destroy the dysplasia in your esophagus. After the therapies, your body should begin making normal esophageal cells.​

Radiologists perform these procedures at certain hospitals and outpatient centers. You will receive local anesthesia and a sedative. The most common procedures are the following:

  • Photodynamic therapy. Photodynamic therapy uses a light-activated chemical called porfimer (Photofrin), an endoscope, and a laser to kill precancerous cells in your esophagus. A doctor injects porfimer into a vein in your arm, and you return 24 to 72 hours later to complete the procedure.

Complications of photodynamic therapy may include

  • sensitivity of your skin and eyes to light for about 6 weeks after the procedure
  • burns, swelling, pain, and scarring in nearby healthy tissue
  • coughing, trouble swallowing, stomach pain, painful breathing, and shortness of breath.

Radiofrequency ablation. Radiofrequency ablation uses radio waves to kill precancerous and cancerous cells in the Barrett’s tissue. An electrode mounted on a balloon or an endoscope creates heat to destroy the Barrett’s tissue and precancerous and cancerous cells.

Complications may include

  • chest pain
  • cuts in the lining of your esophagus
  • strictures

Clinical trials have shown that complications are less common with radiofrequency ablation compared with photodynamic therapy.

Endoscopic mucosal resection

In endoscopic mucosal resection, your doctor lifts the Barrett’s tissue, injects a solution underneath or applies suction to the tissue, and then cuts the tissue off. The doctor then removes the tissue with an endoscope. Gastroenterologists perform this procedure at certain hospitals and outpatient centers. You will receive local anesthesia to numb your throat and a sedative to help you relax and stay comfortable.

Before performing an endoscopic mucosal resection for cancer, your doctor will do an endoscopic ultrasound.

Complications can include bleeding or tearing of your esophagus. Doctors sometimes combine endoscopic mucosal resection with photodynamic therapy.

Surgery​

Surgery called esophagectomy is an alternative to endoscopic therapies. Many doctors prefer endoscopic therapies because these procedures have fewer complications.

Esophagectomy is the surgical removal of the affected sections of your esophagus. After removing sections of your esophagus, a surgeon rebuilds your esophagus from part of your stomach or large intestine. The surgery is performed at a hospital. You’ll receive general anesthesia, and you’ll stay in the hospital for 7 to 14 days after the surgery to recover.

Surgery may not be an option if you have other medical problems. Your doctor may consider the less-invasive endoscopic treatments or continued frequent surveillance instead.​

 

Researchers have not found that diet and nutrition play an important role in causing or preventing Barrett’s esophagus.​

If you have gastroesophageal reflux (GER) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you can prevent or relieve your symptoms by changing your diet. Dietary changes that can help reduce your symptoms include

  • decreasing fatty foods
  • eating small, frequent meals instead of three large meals

Avoid eating or drinking the fol​lowing items that may make GER or GERD worse:

  • ​chocolate
  • coffee
  • peppermint
  • greasy or spicy foods​
  • tomatoes and tomato products
  • alcoholic drinks