Barrett’s Esophagus is a condition in which the squamous or scaly cells that typically line the esophagus are replaced with intestinal cells. This is a precancerous condition, meaning if it is left untreated Barrett’s Esophagus could lead to the development of esophageal cancer. There is no direct cause for Barrett’s Esophagus. Instead, the development of the disease is categorized by the repetitive damage to the esophagus lining that often occurs as a result of frequent heartburn or acid reflux. Barrett’s Esophagus often develops in patients that suffer from GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, a disease in which heartburn and acid reflux are common symptoms. Barrett’s esophagus most frequently occurs in males over the age of 55 that are of either Hispanic or Caucasian background. Smokers are also at an increased risk for the development of Barrett’s Esophagus.
Barrett’s Esophagus does not produce any symptoms on its own. Instead, your physician may be prompted to evaluate your esophagus for Barrett’s Esophagus based on the presence of GERD, which could cause abnormality in the lining of your esophagus due to the frequent appearance of heartburn and acid reflux.
Other symptoms associated with acid reflux that you may experience with Barrett’s Esophagus include:
- Difficulty swallowing food
- Chest pain
- Abdominal pain
- Dry cough
In order to diagnose Barrett’s Esophagus your physician will need to conduct an upper endoscopy exam or EDG procedure. During an endoscopy, your physician is likely to obtain a small tissue sample or biopsy from your esophagus for further examination. The amount of manipulation to the cells in the tissue of your esophagus is called dysplasia. There are several different classification levels or grades of dysplasia that may be affecting your esophagus. The different levels of dysplasia include:
- No Dysplasia: Meaning little to no changes are found within the cells
- Low-grade Dysplasia: Meaning the cells within your esophagus show small signs of changes
- High-grade Dysplasia: Meaning many changes are evident within the cells
The level of dysplasia that is found in the cells of your esophagus is determined by a pathologist in a laboratory setting using the tissue sample obtained during the endoscopy exam. Knowledge of the level of dysplasia within your esophagus is important as it affects the severity of your condition as well as the urgency and type of treatment. High grade dysplasia is often understood to be one of the final stages of cell manipulation that your esophageal tissue will undergo before developing cancer. If your levels of dysplasia are found to be low the best treatment option may be to treat the source of the condition, which in many cases in GERD. Treatment for GERD often encompasses small lifestyle changes such as dietary changes to help you lose weight, smoking cessation, avoiding foods that trigger heartburn symptoms and taking medications such as antacids. Other treatment recommendations are to sleep with your head elevated and to avoid eating three hours prior to going to sleep.