Barrett's Esophagus

  • Medical Author: Bhupinder Anand, MD
  • Medical Author: Wilfred M. Weinstein, MD
  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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What are the symptoms of Barrett's esophagus?

Barrett's esophagus has no unique symptoms. Patients with Barrett's have the symptoms of GERD (for example, heartburn, regurgitation, nausea, etc.). The general trend is for Barrett's patients to have more severe GERD. However, not all Barrett's have marked symptoms of GERD, and some patients are detected accidentally with minimal or no symptoms of GERD.

Heartburn is a burning sensation behind the breastbone, usually in the lower half, but may extend all the way up to the throat. Sometimes, it is accompanied by burning or pain in the pit of the stomach just below where the breastbone ends. The second most common symptom is regurgitation (backup) of bitter tasting fluid. GERD symptoms often are worse after meals and when lying flat.

The refluxed, regurgitated fluid occasionally may enter the lungs or the voice box (larynx), resulting in what are called extraesophageal (outside the esophagus) symptoms (manifestations) of GERD. These symptoms include:

For reasons not fully understood, some GERD patients have minimal heartburn but experience other GERD symptoms, for example, extraesophageal symptoms.

GERD may result in strictures and ulceration of the esophagus. A stricture or narrowing is due to scarring (fibrosis) of the esophagus that may cause difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia). The dysphagia is sensed as a sticking (stopping) of solid food in the chest (in the esophagus), and liquids when the narrowing is severe. Strictures can be treated by stretching them with dilators during endoscopy. Untreated, strictures may promote more spillage of food and/or gastric fluids into the lungs. Uncommonly, massive gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding caused by inflammation of the esophagus may occur. Such bleeding results in vomiting of blood or passage of black or maroon stools. More commonly, however, an inflamed esophagus can cause slow bleeding that is detected when anemia (a low red blood cell count) is found and/or stools are tested for blood.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/16/2016
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