Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the cells of your lower esophagus become damaged, usually from repeated exposure to stomach acid. The damage causes changes to the color and composition of the esophagus cells.
How do I get Barrett’s Esophagus?
Barrett’s esophagus is most often diagnosed in people who have long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) — a chronic regurgitation of acid from the stomach into the lower esophagus. When this happens, the squamous cell lining (which is supposed to consist of flat cells) is replaced by other cells that have a more cube-like shape. In turn, the normal squamous lining cells of the esophagus are replaced by columnar cells, this process is known as metaplasia.
Barrett’s esophagus is a form of metaplasia. The metaplastic columnar lining comes in three types. Two types are similar to groups of cells found in regions of the stomach lining. The third type is similar to groups of cells found in the small intestine. This intestinal type of metaplasia is serious because it can potentially lead to the development of cancer.
A diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus can be concerning because it increases the risk of developing esophageal cancer. Although the risk of esophageal cancer is small, monitoring the esophagus with periodic exams helps to identify or find precancerous esophagus cells and determine a proactive treatment plan.
To determine whether or not you have Barrett’s esophagus, we perform an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. During this outpatient examination, which is performed under sedation, a flexible scope is passed through your mouth, down your esophagus, and into your stomach, permitting the physician performing the test to view the lining surfaces of the esophagus and stomach.
If precancerous cells are discovered, they can be treated to prevent esophageal cancer.
Taking antacids or some type of medication to suppress the production of stomach acid helps. However, on rare occasions, surgical antireflux therapy may need to be employed.
Don’t take a chance with your health. Come in immediately and see one of our board certified gastroenterologists.
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National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse