The esophagus is the muscular pipe that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Barrett’s esophagus is a condition characterized by changes in the cells lining the lower esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus is closely associated with gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GORD), a condition where the stomach's contents rise up from the stomach into the esophagus. Food mixed with the stomach's digestive acids can irritate and damage the esophagus. Recurrent entry of these liquids leads to the changes in the esophageal lining called dysplasia. Barrett’s esophagus is a pre-cancerous condition; however, it can occasionally lead to esophageal cancer.
Barrett’s esophagus usually doesn’t cause specific symptoms. People with GORD may experience a variety of symptoms including heartburn, a bitter or sour taste in the mouth, trouble swallowing, nausea, dry cough or wheezing, regurgitation of food, hoarseness or change in voice and chest pain.
An endoscopic examination of the esophagus is recommended for people with severe gastro-esophageal reflux symptoms. Endoscopy allows the doctor to examine the inside of your esophagus, stomach and portions of the intestine with an instrument called an endoscope, a thin flexible telescope. The diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus is based on the presence of pink colored tissue lining the lower esophagus. A biopsy (sample of tissue studied under the microscope) may show dysplastic changes in the cells lining the lower esophagus.
The treatment options for Barrett’s esophagus include:
- GORD treatment:
-Antacids: over-the-counter medicines that provide temporary relief for heartburn and indigestion by neutralizing acid in the stomach
-Other medications: PPI (Proton pump inhibitors) drugs reduce the production of acid in the stomach
- Surveillance or Monitoring: If you have been diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, your doctor may advise you to undergo endoscopy and biopsy at frequent intervals to monitor the condition.
- Surgery: Esophagectomy refers to the removal of the affected part of the esophagus.
Other treatments include laser therapy, radiofrequency ablation and photodynamic therapy (PDT).