Barrett’s Esophagus Symptoms, Causes & Treatment Options

Barrett’s esophagus is a condition with multiple causes in which tissue that is similar to the lining of your intestine replaces the tissue at the base of your esophagus. It is important to diagnose and treat because it can develop into a type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

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Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Symptoms
  3. Potential Causes
  4. Treatment, Prevention and Relief
  5. When to Seek Further Consultation
  6. References

What Is Barrett’s Esophagus?

Summary

Barrett’s esophagus primarily affects the esophagus, can be caused by multiple behaviors and diseases, is diagnosed with a biopsy, and can be treated through outpatient surgical procedures or watchful waiting for any negative changes in the lining of the esophagus. [1]

Recommended care

Barrett’s Esophagus Symptoms

Main symptoms

Most people do not have any symptoms from Barrett’s esophagus. It is very common for individuals with Barrett’s esophagus to have underlying gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Those individuals with gastric reflux may experience the symptoms of GERD concurrently with Barrett’s esophagus. The following are symptoms of GERD that commonly occur with Barrett’s esophagus.

  • Heartburn: In gastroesophageal reflux, as stomach acid washes against the lining of the esophagus, it can cause damage, burning, and pain in the esophagus. This is often felt as a burning sensation on the left side of the chest over or around the heart because the esophagus inserts into the diaphragm and the stomach just behind and below the heart on the left side of the chest.
  • Chest pain: Chest pain is a common symptom of GERD, and is thought to be caused by stomach acid affecting the lining of the esophagus. However, the body may interpret this pain as something other than a burning sensation. It should be noted that any new chest pain is not necessarily related to GERD and should receive medical evaluation.
  • Difficulty swallowing food: If the esophagus becomes swollen or scarred from repeated exposure to acid as is commonly the case in GERD, Barrett’s esophagus may occur and it may interfere with the esophagus’ ability to relax and allow food to enter the stomach.
  • Increased risk of developing cancer: Individuals with Barrett’s esophagus have an increased chance of developing esophageal cancer. Because of the forced change of cells from esophageal lining to linking for similar to the intestines, it is thought that the cells’ abilities to avoid mutation or eliminate mutation are not as functional which places them at a slightly increased risk of developing cancer.

Barrett’s Esophagus Causes

The most common causes of Barrett’s esophagus include the following: smoking, increased abdominal weight as is often found in obesity, and long-standing gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Smoking

Smoking can cause a variety of cancers including lung cancer, jaw, cancer, bladder, cancer, and esophageal cancer. In the body, cigarette smoke is exposed directly to the mouth esophagus, and lungs and the cancer-causing agents are sometimes concentrated in the urine and sit in the bladder increasing the risk of bladder cancer. In cases of Barrett’s esophagus, smoking can increase the chance of developing cancer from Barrett’s esophagus.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD is the most common cause of Barrett’s esophagus. GERD involves either increased pressure in the stomach or a decrease in the ability of the muscles at the base of the esophagus to make a seal tight enough to keep stomach acid out of the esophagus. It is caused when repeated exposure of the cells at the base of the esophagus causes those cells to change into cells that look more like cells in the intestine called columnar cells. The process of changing from one cell type to another requires a loosening of the processes that regulate the development of cancerous cells. This loosening of regulation is thought to be the process that increases the cancer of developing cancer after developing Barret’s esophagus.

Obesity

Obesity is known to increase the chance of developing Barrett’s esophagus by increasing the pressure placed on the stomach with the additional belly weight that often accompanies increased body weight. This increased pressure can sometimes overwhelm a healthy esophageal sphincter allowing stomach acid to wash the base of the esophagus. In individuals who already have GERD, obesity can make GERD more severe and increase the change of developing Barrett’s esophagus accordingly.

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Treatment Options, Relief, and Prevention for Barrett’s Esophagus

Treatment

Acute and Event: After developing Barrett’s esophagus, it is important to recognize that Barrett’s is not the same as having cancer. Barrett’s esophagus increases the likelihood of developing cancer. It, however, does not increase the chance of having cancer by a large amount. About one half of one percent of individuals with Barrett’s esophagus will develop cancer. Treatment of Barrett’s, because it does not cause symptoms on its own, consists primarily of reducing the risk factors for Barrett’s and transformation of Barrett’s to cancer.

Prevention

Reducing the chances of developing Barrett’s esophagus and having Barrett’s esophagus proceed to cancer can be done through dietary and behavioral changes. One of the most important changes involves altering the diet.

Acute:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables in concert with eating in moderation can reduce the acidity of the stomach and reduce the change that you will experience gastric reflux into the esophagus.
  • Losing weight: Reducing weight, in particular, belly fat, reduces the pressure placed on the abdomen and can reduce the change of refluxing acid into the belly.
  • Avoiding smoking: Smoking increases the chance of developing both Barrett’s esophagus and developing esophageal adenocarcinoma as well as multiple other types of cancer. Stopping smoking is a great way to reduce the risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus.
  • Treat GERD: GERD can be treated through Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) and H2 (histamine) blockers to decrease the acidity and the amount of acid in the stomach. Both of these treatments can reduce the chance of developing Barrett’s esophagus.

When to Seek Further Consultation for Barrett’s Esophagus

If you are experiencing prolonged chest pain or burning, difficulty swallowing, or are experiencing even mild symptoms and have a history of smoking, you should seek further medical consultation.