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Barrett Esophagus


What is Barrett esophagus?

Barrett esophagus is a condition in which the cells that line your esophagus are damaged. The damage can cause abnormal changes in the cells. These abnormal changes increase your risk of esophageal cancer.

What increases my risk for Barrett esophagus?

The exact cause of Barrett esophagus is not known. The following may increase your risk:

  • Long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition that causes stomach acid to back up into the esophagus
  • Age older than 50
  • Family history of GERD, Barrett esophagus, or esophageal cancer
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

What are the signs and symptoms of Barrett esophagus?

Signs and symptoms of Barrett esophagus are usually related to the signs and symptoms of GERD. You may also have any of the following:

  • Heartburn
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Bitter or acid taste in your mouth
  • Cough
  • Frequent burping or hiccups
  • Vomiting blood or having black, tarry bowel movements
  • Weight loss without trying

How is Barrett esophagus diagnosed?

  • An endoscopy is a procedure in which a scope is used to see the inside of your esophagus and stomach. A scope is a long, bendable tube with a light on the end of it. A camera may be hooked to the scope. A biopsy may also be done. A biopsy is when your healthcare provider takes tissue samples from your esophagus and sends it to a lab for tests. These tests will show if the cells of your esophagus have dysplasia (abnormal changes in your cells and tissues).
  • The grade of dysplasia is the amount of abnormal change that is present in your esophagus. The grade can range from negative (no dysplasia) to high-grade (a large amount of dysplasia). There is a higher risk of cancer with high-grade dysplasia.

How is Barrett esophagus treated?

Treatment depends on the grade of dysplasia. The goal of treatment is to control your symptoms and prevent esophageal cancer. Your healthcare provider may also suggest that you make changes in the foods you eat and in your lifestyle. You may need any of the following:

  • Anti-reflux medicines help decrease the stomach acid that can irritate your esophagus and stomach. These medicines may include proton pump inhibitors (PPI) and histamine type-2 receptor (H2) blockers. You may also be given medicines to stop vomiting.
  • Surgery or other procedures may be done if you have high-grade dysplasia.
    • Fundoplication is a surgery that wraps the upper part of your stomach around the esophageal sphincter to strengthen it. The esophageal sphincter is the muscle at the lower end of the esophagus, right above the stomach. This may help to prevent reflux.
    • Resection or esophagectomy is surgery to remove a part of or the entire esophagus.
    • Ablation is procedure that kills abnormal cells with heat or by freezing them.
    • Photodynamic therapy is a procedure that uses a special type of light to kill abnormal cells. It is used in combination with medicines that make the abnormal cells sensitive to light.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your symptoms do not improve with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have severe chest pain and shortness of breath.
  • Your bowel movements are black, bloody, or tarry.
  • Your vomit looks like coffee grounds or has blood in it.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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