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What is Barrett’s Esophagus?
Barrett’s esophagus develops when the lining of the esophagus changes to resemble the lining of the intestine. The esophagus is the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.
Barrett’s esophagus is a complication usually associated with long-term GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) with about 10-15 percent of chronic GERD sufferers developing Barrett’s esophagus.
Patients with Barrett’s esophagus are at increased risk for developing cancer of the esophagus, although even to these patients the risk is extremely rare. Esophageal cancer affects only 1 percent of people with Barrett’s.
GERD allows stomach contents to flow back into the esophagus because “the lower esophageal sphincter opens spontaneously ... or does not close properly ...
Overall, 10 to 20 percent of Americans experience GERD symptoms every day, making it one of the most common medical conditions." (National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse) GERD is commonly referred to as “acid reflux”. Over time, because of the acid reflux, the normal esophageal cells are replaced by intestinal cells.
It is important to remember that “[m]ost people with acid reflux do not develop Barrett’s esophagus ... [a]nd not everyone with Barrett’s esophagus had GERD.” (WebMD)
Facts and Symptoms of Barrett’s Esophagus
“Barrett’s esophagus affects about 1 percent of adults in the United States. The average age of diagnosis is 50 ... Men develop Barrett’s esophagus twice as often as women, and Caucasian men are affected more frequently than men of other races. Barrett’s esophagus is uncommon in children.” (National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse)
Many people with Barrett’s esophagus do not experience any “tell-tale” symptoms. Any symptoms are usually related to the acid reflux:
• Frequent heartburn
• Difficulty swallowing food
• Chest pain
• Upper abdominal pain
• Dry cough
Diagnosis and Treatment of Barrett’s Esophagus