In a patient with Barrett’s esophagus, tissue in the esophageal lining is transformed into a type of tissue found in the lining of the intestines. This condition is most frequently diagnosed in Caucasian men who have had gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) for a number of years. Between five and 10 percent of people with GERD develop Barrett’s esophagus.*
Barrett’s esophagus should be properly diagnosed and treated, as it is associated with an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Symptoms, which are due to chronic injury from GERD, may include:
- Frequent heartburn
- Difficulty swallowing
- Vomiting blood
- Blood in the stool
- Chest pain
- Weight Loss
Often, however, people with Barrett’s esophagus have no signs or symptoms, and the condition can only be diagnosed with an upper endoscopy and esophageal biopsy.
A primary goal in treating Barrett’s esophagus without dysplasia (precancer) is the control of acid reflux via lifestyle changes and medication. Some of these may include:
- Limiting fatty foods, alcohol, spicy foods, and peppermint as they may aggravate reflux
- Losing weight as excess pounds increase the risk of reflux
- Sleeping with the head of the bed elevated so as to help prevent stomach acid from flowing upward into the esophagus
- Waiting at least three hours after eating to lie down
- Taking medications with adequate water
Medications may also be prescribed, including:
- Proton pump inhibitors that turn off the pumps in the stomach lining that cause acid to release into the stomach
- H2 blockers that reduce the release of stomach acid
- Medication to accelerate the movement of food from the stomach to the intestines
Specific methods to treat the abnormal cells/tissue may include:
- Radiofrequency ablation (RFA), an FDA-approved treatment whereby an endoscope is used to deliver radio waves that destroy abnormal cells while protecting healthy cells
- Endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR), a treatment during which a diseased portion of the lining is raised and removed through an endoscope. The tissue is then examined under a microscope to determine if all of the abnormal cells have been destroyed.
- In the event of pre-cancer (dysplasia), surgery or EMR may be recommended.
Due to the potential for the development of esophageal cancer, Digestive Disease Associates of Hinsdale gastroenterologists, Drs. Carl Calandra and Suman Kaur recommend that patients with Barrett’s esophagus be monitored on a regular basis.
*Phillips WA, Lord RV, Nancarrow DJ, Watson DI, Whiteman DC. Barrett’s esophagus. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2011;26:639–648.
Note: This information shouldn’t take the place of a physician’s care. Please see your physician or one of the Digestive Disease Associates physicians with any questions or concerns: (630) 325-4255.