If you are having any symptoms or have any questions, please call 811 to speak with a registered nurse 24 hours a day.
What is Barrett’s esophagus?
Your esophagus is a tube that goes from your throat to your stomach. When you swallow, food travels down this tube and into your stomach. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (also called GERD) is a health problem that happens when stomach acid goes up into your esophagus. If this happens over a long period of time, the acid can make changes in the lining of your esophagus. This condition is called Barrett’s esophagus. In some cases, it can lead to cancer.
What are the symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus and when should I see my healthcare provider?
You should ask your healthcare provider about Barrett’s esophagus if you have heartburn 3 or more times each week, or if you have had heartburn for many years. You should also see your healthcare provider if you have trouble swallowing, pain when you swallow, unexpected weight loss, blood in your vomit or bowel movements, or bowel movements that look like black tar.
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
Who gets Barrett’s esophagus?
People who have had GERD for a long time have a higher risk of getting Barrett’s esophagus. This problem is much more common in white and Hispanic men. Smokers and people who are obese also have a higher risk. Barrett’s esophagus is more common in people older than 50 years of age. Most people who have Barrett’s esophagus are diagnosed after age 60.
How is Barrett’s esophagus treated?
Barrett’s esophagus usually is treated with medicines called proton pump inhibitors. These medicines reduce the amount of acid in your stomach. In some cases, surgery is used to keep stomach acid out of the esophagus. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you make some lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking if you smoke, exercising, losing weight, and avoiding foods that make your heartburn worse.
What can I expect if I have Barrett’s esophagus?
If you have Barrett’s esophagus, your healthcare provider may have you see a gastroenterologist (a healthcare provider who specializes in stomach problems). Your healthcare provider or the gastroenterologist may want you to have a test called an upper endoscopy. In this test, a flexible tube is guided down your throat and the healthcare provider looks inside your esophagus and stomach for abnormal cells. Your healthcare provider will probably treat you for GERD before doing an endoscopy. Patients who have 2 endoscopies in a row that show no abnormal cells should have an endoscopy every 3 to 5 years. Patients who have somewhat abnormal cells should get an endoscopy every year. Patients who have more highly abnormal cells should get an endoscopy every 3 months or have surgery to remove the abnormal tissue. Abnormal cells can lead to cancer.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
- I have Barrett’s esophagus. Do I need an upper endoscopy?
- Does having Barrett’s esophagus put me at an increased risk of cancer?
- Are there lifestyle changes I can make that will ease my symptoms?
- What medicines are used to treat Barrett’s esophagus? Are there side effects?
- I have GERD. Am I at risk of Barrett’s esophagus?
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Canadian Cancer Society
Barrett’s Esophagus by MD Shalauta, M.D., and R Saad, M.D. (05/01/04, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20040501/2113.html )