Barrett’s Esophagus

What is Barrett’s esophagus?
Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which stomach acid erodes the esophagus, causing damage to the cells and deforming its shape. This process is called intestinal metaplastia. Those who suffer from GERD have an increased risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus if not treated properly.

What are the symptoms of Barrett’s Esophagus?
Typically, you will not feel any symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus. The symptoms are felt during the formation of the disease. These symptoms include pain felt from constant episodes of acid reflux or GERD, which include heartburn, chest pain and tightening, upper abdominal pain, trouble with swallowing, and even a dry cough.

How common is Barrett’s esophagus and who is affected?
Roughly two to seven percent of people will develop Barrett’s esophagus, but this is merely an estimate. Men have been reported to develop the condition twice as much as women and those of Caucasian descent are affected more often than those of other races.

What causes Barrett’s esophagus?
Barrett’s esophagus is caused from repeated exposure of stomach acid into the esophagus, also known as acid reflux. The pain felt from acid reflux is known as heartburn. Chronic, or frequent, heartburn is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can be caused by a hiatal hernia. Those with GERD have about a 10% chance of developing Barrett’s esophagus. Obesity, smoking, and genetics are other risk factors of developing Barrett’s esophagus.

Studies performed on a bacterium known as helicobacter pylori have been shown to decrease the risk of Barrett’s esophagus. Researchers believe this bacterium decreases the damaging characteristics of your stomach contents on the esophagus.

How is Barrett’s esophagus diagnosed?
Dr. Khorrami can detect Barrett’s esophagus by examining the esophagus during an upper endoscopy, and in some cases by obtaining a biopsy. During a biopsy, a small tissue sample of your esophagus is removed for further examination. This process is painless. You may need to have several samples taken, as all of the tissues in your esophagus are not affected with this condition.

How is Barrett’s esophagus treated?
Advanced treatment is made possible through the use of radiofrequency ablation therapy. Other treatments include regulating your GERD, making sure your stomach acid remains stable and in control through the use of prescription antacids. You will need to undergo routine upper endoscopies in order to monitor your esophagus.

Those who suffer from Barrett’s esophagus will commonly be prescribed acid-suppressing medications called proton pump inhibitors. The main goal in medication therapy is to prevent further damage to the esophagus from stomach acid. Examples of these medications include Prilosec and Nexium. It is possible for your esophagus to heal if medications work as intended.

Radiofrequency Ablation Therapy
This treatment method uses radio waves to destroy any precancerous cells in the esophagus. These damaged cells are burned by the heat energy that is applied during the procedure. Studies have shown a low chance of side effects using this procedure, but they include chest pain, tear of the esophagus, and strictures.

Often used as a “last resort” option, surgery for Barrett’s esophagus in known as an esophagectomy in which the damaged areas of the esophagus are removed and rebuilt using part of your stomach or large intestine. Typically you will need to spend 7 – 14 days recovering in the hospital. Other procedures, such as radiofrequency ablation therapy, are usually recommended first, as they are much less invasive.

Why it’s important to treat Barrett’s Esophagus?
It’s especially important to make sure you have control over your stomach acid as that is the main cause of Barrett’s esophagus. If you have Barrett’s esophagus, then it’s crucial to treat it as it can lead to esophageal cancer. Some people with Barrett’s esophagus will end up with esophageal cancer if they are unaware of the problem or fail to properly treat it.

Eating, Diet, and Nutrition
A high intake of fruits, vegetables, and vitamins may decrease your chances of developing Barrett’s esophagus. Smoking and obesity have also been linked to a higher chance of developing the condition so it’s important to quit the habit and remain a healthy weight.

Discuss Your Options with Dr. Khorrami
Dr. Khorrami has been in practice since 1996 as a double-board certified gastroenterologist, has experienced a variety of patient cases, and is well equipped to solve your digestive problems. It’s important to control your stomach acid in order prevent more serious diseases from developing. Get in touch to learn more about Barrett’s esophagus and how you can prevent and treat it.

Source contains material from the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).


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About Dr. Khorrami

Dr. Payman Khorrami is a UCLA graduate, has been in practice since 1996, and is double board certified. Undergraduate Education at University of California, Berkeley, Medical School at University of California, San Francisco, Internal Medicine Training at University of California, San Diego Read Full Bio