Is Barrett's esophagus serious?
Barrett’s esophagus is a serious medical condition in which the inner lining of the food pipe (esophagus) is damaged due to acid reflux. The food you eat passes from the mouth and throat to the stomach via a tube-like structure called the esophagus. The junction where the lower end of the esophagus meets the stomach is called the gastroesophageal junction (GEJ). The type of cells lining the esophagus and stomach are different. A muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) guards the backflow of the acidic stomach contents into the food pipe. In gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the LES does not close properly allowing the stomach contents to leak back or reflux into the food pipe and irritate it. The reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus may also happen in other conditions, such as severe obesity, stress and hiatal hernia (a condition in which the stomach bulges up into the chest through an opening in the diaphragm). The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the two areas. Prolonged irritation of the lining of the esophagus causes a change in the structure of its cells making it resemble the lining of the stomach. This condition is called Barrett's esophagus. It can progress to cancer in the affected area. A person diagnosed with this condition must go for regular checkups to the doctor to rule out the development of cancer.
Barrett's esophagus is more common in men than in women. People with chronic and untreated GERD have a high risk of Barrett's esophagus. People with a family history of Barrett's esophagus may have a higher risk of developing this condition.
What are the symptoms of Barrett's esophagus?
Barrett's esophagus as such does not cause any symptoms. The associated conditions causing Barrett's esophagus may lead to the following symptoms
- Heartburn (a sensation of burning and discomfort in the chest). When heartburn occurs at least twice a week the chances of having Barrett's esophagus are high.
- Acid regurgitation (reflux of acidic contents into the throat), which makes the mouth taste sour
- Difficulty or pain while swallowing
- Feeling that food gets stuck in the food pipe
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Recurrent or continuous sore throat
The symptoms must not be ignored and early medical help must be sought. If you develop symptoms such as unintended loss of weight, difficulty swallowing, and severe heartburn that wakes you from sleep, you must contact your doctor immediately.
How is Barrett's esophagus treated?
The treatment for Barrett's esophagus focuses mainly on treating the underlying conditions that cause GERD and regular screening for the development of cancer. The treatment may include
- Lifestyle and home remedies
- Take antacids to neutralize stomach acid.
- Take H2 blockers to decrease acid production.
- Use foaming agents to coat the stomach to prevent reflux.
- Proton pump inhibitors reduce the amount of acid the stomach makes.
- Prokinetics help strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), empty the stomach faster and reduce acid reflux.
- Surgery: If medications do not provide lasting relief and symptoms are severe enough to interfere with everyday activities, the doctor may recommend surgical options including
- LINX device placement: The procedure involves surgically placing a ring (LINX device) around the outside of the lower end of the esophagus.
- Fundoplication: The procedure creates an artificial valve using the upper part of the stomach.
The management of Barrett's esophagus also depends on the presence of any abnormal tissue. This is investigated through endoscopic biopsy. If biopsy results show cell changes that may be cancer, the doctor may advise surgery or other procedures to treat it. Some of the procedures for removing harmful tissue from the esophagus include
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Top Is Barrett's Esophagus Serious Related Articles
Barrett's EsophagusBarrett's esophagus occurs as a complication of chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), primarily in white males. GERD refers to the reflux of acidic fluid from the stomach into the esophagus (the swallowing tube), and is classically associated with heartburn. Learn the symptoms, causes, and treatments for Barrett's esophagus.
Beyond Food: What Triggers Heartburn and GERD?Heartburn is the burning sensation in the chest due to backflow or reflux of the acidic stomach contents into the food pipe (esophagus). Heartburn is a major symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
Esophageal CancerEsophageal cancer is a disease in which malignant cells form in the esophagus. Risk factors of cancer of the esophagus include smoking, heavy alcohol use, Barrett's esophagus, being male and being over age 60. Severe weight loss, vomiting, hoarseness, coughing up blood, painful swallowing, and pain in the throat or back are symptoms. Treatment depends upon the size, location and staging of the cancer and the health of the patient.
Gastroesophageal Junction AdenocarcinomaGastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma is cancer that forms in the area where the esophagus joins the stomach. Having GERD and Barrett's esophagus increases one's odds of developing gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma. Symptoms and signs of GE junction adenocarcinoma include dysphagia, weight loss, black stool, cough, nausea, and vomiting. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.
GERD PictureThe stomach contents regurgitate and back up (reflux) into the esophagus The food in the stomach is partially digested by stomach acid and enzymes. See a picture of Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD) and learn more about the health topic.
GERD (Acid Reflux, Heartburn)GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a condition in which the acidified liquid contents of the stomach backs up into the esophagus. The symptoms of uncomplicated GERD are:
- regurgitation, and
GERD QuizWho is at risk for developing GERD? Are you? Take this quiz to learn what GERD is, if you're at risk, and what you can do about it.
GERD: Is the Damage Reversible?Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD is caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). LES is a group of muscles that act as a valve to prevent the acidic contents of the stomach from refluxing into the esophagus.
Heartburn is a burning sensation experienced from acid reflux (GERD). Symptoms of heartburn include chest pain, burning in the throat, difficulty swallowing, the feeling of food sticking in the throat, and a burning feeling in the chest.
Causes of heartburn include dietary habits, lifestyle habits, and medical causes.
Treatments for heartburn include lifestyle changes, OTC medication,prescription medication, and surgery.
Heartburn Foods SlidesLearn the symptoms of heartburn and which foods cause heartburn or GERD. Discover home remedies and which foods may provide treatment for heartburn relief.
Acid Reflux (Heartburn, GERD): Symptoms & RemediesHeartburn is a symptom of acid reflux that causes chest pain when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Heartburn symptoms may mimic chest pain that occurs during a heart attack. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may produce other symptoms.
Heartburn vs. Acid Reflux (Differences and Similarities)
Heartburn and acid reflux are not the same thing. Heartburn is actually a symptom of acid reflux. Heartburn gets its name because it feels like a burning sensation around the heart. Another symptom that occurs with heartburn is a bitter or sour taste in the mouth, usually when you eat or lye down. Heartburn affects more than 60 million people in the US at least once a month. Acid reflux, or GERD, occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, which irritates it. Heartburn is just one symptom of acid reflux. Other symptoms of acid reflux include:
- Nausea after eating
- A feeling of fullness during or after eating
- Abdominal bloating
- Upset stomach
- Reflux laryngitis
- A tightness in the throat
- Problems swallowing
- In some people, vomiting
Causes of acid reflux and heartburn include:
- Being obese
- Slouching (poor posture)
- Medications like calcium channel blockers, theophylline, nitrates, and antihistamines
- Foods and drinks like caffeine, citrus fruits and vegetables, alcohol, and chocolate
- Increase in stomach acid
- Eating a heavy meal
- Eating before bed
The treatment for heartburn and acid reflux is to treat the underlying cause, for example, GERD, with over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, prescription medicine, natural remedies, and lifestyle changes like a eating a healthy, less fatty, spicy diet, not eating big meals, not eating before bed, and getting regular exercise to improve your posture.
Sometimes a heart attack can mimic heartburn and acid reflux because they feel very similar. If you have symptoms of chest pain, tightness in the chest, heartburn, acid reflux, jaw, tooth, or head pain; shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, sweating, discomfort in the upper middle of the abdomen, arm or upper back pain, or the general feeling of being ill, go to the nearest Emergency Department immediately because these are the symptoms of a heart attack.
American College of Gastroenterology. "Acid Reflux." 2017.
familydoctor.org. "Heartburn." Updated: Mar 2014.
National Library of Medicine; PubMed Health. "Heartburn and GERD: Treatment options for GERD." Updated: Nov 18, 2015.
Ways to Relieve Acid Reflux (GERD, Heartburn)Most people have experienced some sort of pain or discomfort following a large meal or a particular food that didn’t quite agree with their stomach. Acid reflux symptoms can happen without a specific underlying condition.
What Can Heartburn Be a Sign of?Heartburn symptoms may indicate a bigger health concern. Learn more about heartburn, heartburn symptoms, heartburn related to other health conditions, how it's diagnosed, and your treatment options for heartburn.