What is Barrett’s Esophagus? Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Esophageal cancer is one of the leading causes of death by cancer in the United States, Canada and many other developed nations worldwide. Esophageal cancer occurs when abnormal cells develop in the Esophagus, which is the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach.

In most cases, esophageal cancer begins as a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett's Esophagus (BE). About half of people with BE will develop esophageal cancer within 10 years if left untreated. People with chronic heartburn or acid reflux history are at a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer. Luckily, several interventions for patients with this condition can help prevent it from turning into something more serious.

What is Barrett's Esophagus?

Barrett's Esophagus is a condition that is caused by chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Over time, the tissue that lines the Esophagus is replaced by a completely different tissue. This is called metaplasia, and it's a pre-cancerous condition. People who have GERD have a higher risk of getting esophageal cancer.

The risk is even greater if you don't get proper treatment for your GERD. Barrett's Esophagus develops in about 20% of people who have GERD. It is three to 10 times more likely for people with GERD to develop esophageal cancer compared with people who don't have GERD. Although there are many causes of Barrett's Esophagus, the main cause is chronic reflux of stomach acid.

Symptoms of Barrett's Esophagus

The symptoms of Barrett's Esophagus may include:

1. Heartburn

This burning sensation in the lower abdomen, chest or back occurs twice a week. 

2. Indigestion

This is an uncomfortable fullness in the upper abdomen that occurs after eating. 

3. Hoarseness

This is the sensation of a lump in the throat, causing a change in the voice. 

4. Odynophagia

This is pain while swallowing and feeling like food is getting stuck in the throat. 

5. Regurgitation

This is the sensation of food coming back up to the throat or mouth. 

6. Weight loss

This is a sudden unintended loss of 10% or more of a person's usual body weight

7. Dysphagia

This is difficulty in swallowing.

Causes of Barrett's Esophagus

The causes of Barrett's Esophagus are 

1. GERD

This is caused by the abnormal backflow of stomach acid into the Esophagus

2. Cigarette smoking

It is estimated that tobacco use doubles the risk of developing Barrett's Esophagus. 

3. Alcohol use

Excessive alcohol intake may increase the risk of GERD. 

4. Obesity

This condition leads to a higher risk of developing intestinal bacterial overgrowth, which can cause reflux. 

5. Certain medications

Drugs that can contribute to the development of Barrett's Esophagus include nitroglycerin, omeprazole, nitrofurantoin, and cyclosporine, as well as others.

Treatment for Barrett's Esophagus

If you have Barrett's Esophagus, treating your GERD is the best way to prevent esophageal cancer. This can be done with lifestyle changes, medications or even surgery. You should work with a healthcare provider to determine the best treatment for you. Some of the most common interventions include: 

1. Medications

The most common medications used to treat reflux include proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like Nexium, Prevacid or Prilosec. H2 blockers like Zantac or Pepcid are also sometimes used. 

2. Esophageal dilation

This simple, painless procedure uses a slender tube to widen the narrowed, inflamed esophageal sphincter. 

3. Esophageal endoscopy

This procedure examines the inside of the Esophagus, stomach and nearby lymph nodes. 

4. Esophageal stenting

During this procedure, a thin tube called a stent is inserted through the nose and into the Esophagus. 

5. Esophageal surgery

There are several types of procedures used to treat Barrett's Esophagus.

Conclusion: Understanding Barrett's Esophagus

Barrett's Esophagus is a serious condition that is caused by chronic acid reflux disease. If left untreated, it can lead to the development of esophageal cancer, which is a life-threatening condition.

The best way to prevent this is to take steps to treat your acid reflux, including making lifestyle changes and taking medications. You should work with a healthcare provider to determine the best treatment for you.

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