Barrett's Esophagus

In Barrett's esophagus, tissue in the tube connecting your mouth and stomach (esophagus) is replaced by tissue similar to the intestinal lining.

Barrett's esophagus is often diagnosed in people who have long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) — a chronic regurgitation of acid from the stomach into the lower esophagus. Only a small percentage of people with GERD will develop Barrett's esophagus.

Barrett's esophagus is associated with an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer. Although the risk is small, it's important to have regular checkups for precancerous cells (dysplasia). If precancerous cells are discovered, they can be treated to prevent esophageal cancer.

Risk factors
Factors that increase your risk of Barrett's esophagus include:

  • Chronic heartburn and acid reflux. Having GERD that doesn't get better when taking medications known as proton pump inhibitors or having GERD that requires regular medication can increase the risk of Barrett's esophagus.
  • Age. Barrett's esophagus can occur at any age but is more common in older adults.
  • Being a man. Men are far more likely to develop Barrett's esophagus.
  • Being white. White people have a greater risk of the disease than do people of other races.
  • Being overweight. Body fat around your abdomen further increases your risk.
  • Current or past smoking.

Complications
Esophageal cancer
People with Barrett's esophagus have an increased risk of esophageal cancer. The risk is small, even in people who have precancerous changes in their esophagus cells. Most people with Barrett's esophagus will never develop esophageal cancer.

Diagnosis
Endoscopy is generally used to determine if you have Barrett's esophagus.  A lighted tube with a camera at the end (endoscope) is passed down your throat to check for signs of changing esophagus tissue. Normal esophagus tissue appears pale and glossy. In Barrett's esophagus, the tissue appears red and velvety.  Your doctor will remove tissue (biopsy) from your esophagus. The biopsied tissue can be examined to determine the degree of change.

Screening for Barrett's esophagus
Barrett's esophagus diagnosis
The American College of Gastroenterology says screening may be recommended for men who have had GERD symptoms at least weekly that don't respond to treatment with proton pump inhibitor medication, and who have at least two more risk factors, including:

  • Being over 50
  • Being white
  • Having a lot of abdominal fat
  • Being a current or past smoker
  • Having a family history of Barrett's esophagus or esophageal cancer

While women are significantly less likely to have Barrett's esophagus, women should be screened if they have uncontrolled reflux or have other risk factors for Barrett's esophagus.

Treatment
If you have evidence of precancerous changes in the esophagus, we are the only center in the Merrimack Valley that offers  radiofrequency ablation, which uses heat to remove abnormal esophagus tissue. Radiofrequency ablation may be recommended after endoscopic resection.

If you are at risk of having Barrett’s esophagus or have been told you have Barrett’s esophagus, contact your doctor.  You can also call us at 978-459-6737 or click here to request an appointment.