Barrett's Esophagus - Symptoms and Signs

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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:

  • new onset adult asthma,
  • frequent bronchitis,
  • chronic cough,
  • sore throats, and
  • hoarseness.

For reasons not fully understoood, 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.

Return to Barrett's Esophagus

See what others are saying

Comment from: patient, 35-44 Male (Patient) Published: February 04

I have been suffering from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) constipation dominant for the last seven years. Three years back, I underwent colonoscopy and EGD. The doctor noted hiatal hernia and erosive esophagitis but missed biopsies. My colon was clear. I had GERD symptoms and again underwent endoscopy last year. It was again hiatal hernia with reflux esophagitis. Biopsies confirmed the findings of Barrett's syndrome with basal cell hyperplasia but no dysplasia. Since then I am taking PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) and H2 (histamine 2) receptors but symptoms are not subsiding.

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Comment from: angelaking86, 25-34 Female (Patient) Published: May 13

I"m 27 and I"ve had heartburn off and on for the last 8 years (when I started having children). Each time I had my children the heartburn would disappear. I had my youngest daughter 3 years ago and had the worst heartburn while pregnant with her, the doctor was upping my medicines every couple of weeks. The heartburn never went away after she was born, instead it just became worse. Last year in 2013 I had to go to the emergency room (ER) with what I thought could have been a heart attack. My chest and shoulders hurt, my arms and fingers were numb and tingling. Turns out it was a just a bad case of heartburn. Earlier this year (2014) after my youngest daughter turned 3 I finally had good insurance (since I now work at the hospital) and went to see my primary care physician (PCP) about my heartburn issues. She got me in to see the gastroenterologist right away and after having an upper endoscopy done I was told I have Barrett's esophagus. I speak to a surgeon next week to set up a surgery date!

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