What is Barrett’s esophagus?

Barrett’s esophagus is a precancerous condition in which the tissue lining the esophagus is replaced with tissue similar to the intestinal lining.

Barrett’s esophagus is estimated to affect about 4 percent of the population, primarily Caucasian men, with 55 being the average age of diagnosis. 

Barrett’s Esophagus Causes

The exact cause of Barrett’s is unknown and determining when the problem started is usually difficult. However gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a risk factor, as chronic GERD may damage the cells in the esophagus. Between 5-10 percent of people with GERD develop Barrett’s esophagus. 

Other risk factors:

  • Obesity (specifically, high levels of belly fat)
  • Smoking
  • Genetics

People with Barrett’s esophagus are at increased risk for esophageal cancer.

Barrett’s Esophagus Symptoms

While many patients with Barrett’s esophagus will experience no symptoms at all, the most common symptoms are severe heartburn/GERD and difficulty swallowing food.

Diagnosis of Barrett’s Esophagus

Barrett’s esophagus is diagnosed when a person has an upper GI endoscopy for GERD symptoms. Some healthcare providers may also recommend that people with multiple risk factors for this condition be tested. If precancerous cells appear in the Barrett’s tissue (dysplasia), your doctor may recommend periodic monitoring via an upper GI endoscopy with biopsy to watch for any changes. Barrett’s esophagus may be present for many years before cancer develops.

Barrett’s Esophagus Treatment

Your doctor will discuss treatment options based on your overall health, and whether precancerous cells are present.

Treatment options include:

  • Medication (including acid-suppressing medications for patients with GERD)
  • Endoscopic ablative therapies: Most frequently done through photodynamic therapy and radiofrequency ablation, these techniques destroy the dysplastic cells in the esophagus, allowing the body to begin making normal esophageal cells again.
  • Endoscopic mucosal resection
  • Esophagectomy (surgical removal of affected area of esophagus)

Why Ohio State?

  • Ohio State is recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation's highest performing hospitals in gastroenterology and GI surgery.
  • We provide a multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of Barrett’s esophagus, and collaborate with experts in esophageal cancer care when needed.
  • Our team provides the most cutting-edge procedures and medical therapies for treatment of Barrett’s esophagus.
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