Barrett's Esophagus

ExitCare ImageBarrett's esophagus occurs when the lining of the esophagus is damaged. The esophagus is the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. With Barrett's esophagus, the lining of the esophagus gets replaced by material that is similar to the lining in the intestines. This process is called intestinal metaplasia. A small number of people with Barrett's esophagus develop esophageal cancer.

CAUSES

The exact cause of Barrett's esophagus is unknown.

SYMPTOMS

Most people with Barrett's esophagus do not have symptoms. However, many patients also have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD can cause heartburn, trouble swallowing, and a dry cough.

DIAGNOSIS

Barrett's esophagus is diagnosed by an exam called upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. A thin, flexible tube (endoscope) is passed down the esophagus. The endoscope has a light and camera on the end. Your caregiver uses the endoscope to view the inside of the esophagus. A tissue sample may also be taken and examined under a microscope (biopsy). If cancer cells are found during the biopsy, this condition is called dysplasia.

TREATMENT

If you have no dysplasia or low-grade dysplasia, your caregiver may recommend no treatment or only taking medicines to treat GERD. Sometimes, taking acid-blocking drugs to treat GERD helps improve the tissue affected by Barrett's esophagus. Your caregiver may also recommend periodic esophageal exams.

If you have high-grade dysplasia, treatment may include removing the damaged parts of the esophagus. This can be done by heating, freezing, or surgically removing the tissue. In some cases, surgery may be done to remove most of the esophagus. The stomach is then attached to the remaining portion of the esophagus.

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