Barrett’s esophagus develops as a result of acid destroying the healthy cells in the esophagus, leading to the growth of new, precancerous cells. Meade Edmunds, MD, and his team at Edmunds Gastroenterology in Knoxville, Tennessee, are experienced at diagnosing Barrett’s esophagus, which rarely presents with any clear symptoms. To find out whether you have Barrett’s esophagus or any other esophageal disorder, call Edmunds Gastroenterology, or book an appointment online.
Barrett’s esophagus is a condition that occurs when the cells that line the bottom (distal) portion of the esophagus are replaced by new cells which are precancerous.
Typically, this occurs over a prolonged period of time when stomach acid destroys the cells lining the distal esophagus. This can occur when you have:
The result of all these conditions is a change in the normal esophageal cells to precancerous cells resulting in Barrett’s esophagus. This is of concern because Barrett’s esophagus is a precancerous condition and can progress into esophageal cancer.
As mentioned above, chronic acid exposure in the distal esophagus usually results from chronic reflux or damage of cells in the lower esophagus, thereby allowing new precancerous cells to develop. Other conditions of the esophagus and stomach may predispose a patient to the development of Barrett’s esophagus.
Caucasians are at the highest risk for Barrett’s esophagus with males having a higher incidence compared to females. Asians and non-Caucasians are less affected and African-American patients have the least likely chance of developing Barrett’s esophagus. Patients with long-standing reflux have the highest risk of the development of Barrett’s.
Barrett’s itself typically does not present with symptoms. Patients with chronic reflux who later develop Barrett’s actually lose their symptoms of reflux and feel better, because the new cells lining the esophagus are not as sensitive to acid as the original esophageal lining.
If patients with Barrett’s esophagus develop trouble swallowing, immediate evaluation is needed to rule out the development of esophageal cancer.
Barrett’s is diagnosed by endoscopic evaluation where the patient is sedated and a small, light scope is placed in the esophagus. Biopsies are taken from the distal esophagus to check for Barrett’s.
CT scans and other radiographic studies, such as Barium swallow, are not adequate to assess for the development of Barrett’s esophagus.
Once Barrett’s esophagus develops, it typically does not go away on its own. Medicines such as PPIs (Nexium, Protonix, Prevacid, Omeprazole, and Dexilant) help to slow the progression of Barrett’s by controlling acid reflux, but they don’t eradicate it.
Routine screening endoscopies are needed on a regular basis for cancer surveillance once Barrett’s has been found. The frequency of this surveillance is determined by the degree of cellular change and endoscopic findings by your gastroenterologist.
In more advanced cases, eradication of the Barrett’s by advanced endoscopic technique, such as radiofrequency ablation, can remove the Barrett’s lining of the esophagus without surgery and help reduce the risk of developing esophageal cancer.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Edmunds Gastroenterology or use the online booking tool.
This information is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Please consult with your primary care physician or a specialist regarding your symptoms.