gastrointestinal conditions

Barrett's Esophagus

Chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause the normal cells lining the esophagus to change into cells similar to those that line the intestine. When that happens, the changes are called Barrett’s esophagus.

Not everyone who has GERD gets Barrett's esophagus, but about 10 percent of GERD patients will. In addition to having chronic GERD, risks for Barrett's esophagus include being male, 50 years old or older, overweight and Caucasian.

Upper Endoscopy

To confirm if you have Barrett's esophagus, your doctor will need to look inside your throat and take tissue samples called biopsies. During this procedure, called upper endoscopy, you'll be given a sedative before your doctor slides a flexible tube with a light and camera into your esophagus.

If your doctor sees abnormal cells during your upper endoscopy, he or she can use the endoscope to take your biopsies. The tissue samples will be checked at the lab to see if you have the abnormal cells and, if so, how extensively.

Treatment for Barrett's Esophagus

Barrett's esophagus with fewer abnormal cells is often treated by reducing acid reflux. With more abnormal cells—called high-grade dysplasia—your doctor may recommend a therapy to reduce the number of abnormal cells. This could include:

  • Cutting away abnormal cells using an endoscope
  • Using heat, cold or light to destroy the abnormal cells
  • Surgically removing the damaged portion of your esophagus and reattaching the healthy portions surrounding it.

About 1 percent of people with Barrett's esophagus will develop cancer of the esophagus. That's not a huge risk. But if you have Barrett's esophagus, it's important to follow your doctor's advice about keeping an eye on your esophagus over time using endoscopy. This will allow your doctor to catch early signs of tissue changes that could become cancer later.