Barrett's Esophagus

Overview

Definition

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.

Causes

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).

Gastroesophageal Reflux
Gastroesophageal Reflux
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Risk Factors

This problem is more common in men, people who are White, and people aged 50 and older. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • A history of heartburn or GERD
  • Obesity, especially around the midsection
  • Current or history of smoking
  • Having other family members with this problem
  • A history of hiatal hernia

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

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

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may want to test for Barrett esophagus if you have a history of heartburn or GERD.

The area will need to be viewed. This can be done with:

  • Upper GI endoscopy—a scope with a camera is passed down the throat to view the area
  • Biopsy—a sample of tissue is removed and examined in a lab to look for signs of cell changes

Treatments

Treatment

The cells that have already been damaged cannot be changed. The goal of treatment is to stop the disease from damaging more cells. Choices are:

  • Monitoring the problem to look for changes
  • Medicine to prevent stomach acid from damaging the esophagus, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
  • Surgery to remove:
    • Unhealthy cells using laser light or radio waves
    • Part of the esophagus

Prevention

To lower the risk of this health problem:

  • Manage symptoms of heartburn and GERD
  • Avoid smoking and drinking
  • Maintain a healthy weight

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

RESOURCES

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases https://www.niddk.nih.gov 

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons https://www.sts.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

GI Society—Canadian Society of Intestinal Research https://www.badgut.com 

Health Canada https://www.canada.ca 

References

Barrett esophagus. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/barrett-esophagus. Accessed November 24, 2020.

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. Accessed November 24, 2020.

Shaheen NJ, Falk GW, et al. ACG Clinical Guideline: Diagnosis and Management of Barrett's Esophagus. Am J Gastroenterol. 2016 Jan;111(1):30-50.

11/30/2015 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance https://www.dynamed.com/condition/barrett-esophagus: Shaheen NJ, Falk GW, et al. ACG clinical guideline: diagnosis and management of Barrett's esophagus. Am J Gastroenterol. 2016;111(1):30-50.