Dr. Barbara Huggins

Barrett’s Esophagus

February 22, 2007

Barrett's Esophagus -  February 22, 2007Named for the doctor who discovered it, Barrett's esophagus is a strange name for a very serious condition. If you or someone that you care about has suffered from long term acid reflux disease, Dr. Mom has information you don't want to miss.

The esophagus is a tube that goes from your mouth to your stomach and is designed to carry food and liquid only one way. When food is swallowed, it goes through the tube into your stomach where stomach acids help digest food. In some cases, the lower esophageal sphincter does not work properly and stomach juices splash back into the esophagus, causing heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Having GERD can lead to Barrett's esophagus.

Barrett's esophagus is a condition in which the tissue in the esophagus changes from its normal pink to a salmon color. This is caused by repeated and long-term exposure to stomach acid.

Barrett's Esophagus is the leading cause of esophageal cancer, one of the fastest growing cancers in the US and is estimated to affect about 700,000 adults. The problem is much more common in white and Hispanic men. Smokers and people who are obese also have a higher risk. It is more common in older adults.

Talk with your physician if:
  • Barrett's esophagus can only be diagnosed by an upper GI endoscopy to obtain biopsies of the esophagus. At present, it cannot be diagnosed on the basis of symptoms, physical exam, or blood tests. In an upper GI endoscopy, a flexible tube called an endoscope, which has a light and miniature camera, is passed into the esophagus. If the tissue appears suspicious, then biopsies must be done. A biopsy is the removal of a small piece of tissue using a pincher-like device passed through the endoscope. A pathologist examines the tissue under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Treatment may start with controlling GERD by making a number of lifestyle changes such as:

As always, discuss with your primary care physician if you have had heartburn more than 3 times per week.

Helpful websites:

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