Barrett's Esophagus

Definition

The esophagus is a tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. Chronic esophagitis is inflammation of the esophagus. Barrett's esophagus is a complication of chronic esophagitis. Barrett's esophagus is a change in the cells that line the esophagus. Normal cells are flat-shaped squamous cells. Barrett's esophagus cells are shaped like a column. This cell change is called metaplasia. It is a premalignant phase that may result in cancer of the esophagus if it is not treated.

Causes

The exact cause of Barrett's esophagus is not known. It may result from damage to the esophagus caused by the chronic reflux of stomach acid. Frequent or chronic reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Gastroesophageal Reflux
Gastroesophageal Reflux
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Barrett's esophagus is more common in Caucasian men over 40 years old. Other factors that increase your chances of Barrett's esophagus include chronic heartburn or a history of GERD.

Symptoms

In some cases Barrett's esophagus may not produce symptoms.Some people with GERD may have the following symptoms:
  • Heartburn
  • Regurgitation
  • Sore throat or chronic cough
  • Hoarse voice
  • Sour taste in mouth from acid reflux
More serious symptoms include:
  • Difficulty or pain with swallowing, a condition called dysphagia
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue, or difficulty or pain with breathing associated with anemia

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. In order to diagnose Barrett's esophagus, your doctor may recommend an upper GI endoscopy with a biopsy.

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