Barrett’s esophagus is a condition where part of the lining of the esophagus near the stomach has changed. This change is caused by the acid reflux that occurs with GERD which is when the stomach acid backs up into the esophagus.
The stomach is protected from its own acid by a special lining. Stomach acid normally stays out of the esophagus so the esophagus doesn’t need an acid-resistant lining. If acid backs up during GERD, it damages the esophagus. To protect itself, the esophagus may develop a more acid-resistant lining. This is Barrett’s esophagus. The change in the lining is not normal and if it continues to change, it may be more likely to become cancer in the future.
The esophagus is the tube that carries food and liquid from your mouth to your stomach. Acids in the stomach help break down and digest the food. Normally, the sphincter muscle keeps stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus. If this muscle is weakened, GERD may occur.
You may have GERD and feel no symptoms. Or you may have symptoms such as:
- Sour-tasting fluid backing up into your mouth
- Frequent burping or belching
- Symptoms that get worse after you eat, bend over, or lie down
The muscle can be weakened by smoking, excess body weight, certain medications or foods, and some types of medical problems, such as a hiatal hernia.
Barrett’s esophagus is often found when a test for another problem is done. An exam for Barrett’s may also be done if your GERD symptoms are severe. The best way to diagnose Barrett’s is with a test called an endoscopy. This test lets your doctor look into your esophagus.
Endoscopy is an exam of your digestive tract. During the exam, an endoscope (a narrow tube containing a light and a small camera) is placed through your mouth into your esophagus. Then, it is moved to the lower part of your esophagus where Barrett’s is usually found. This area is examined closely and some tiny samples of tissue are taken. The samples can be examined later for signs of cancer. Your doctor may give you instructions on how to prepare for an endoscopy. Follow them carefully.
To keep track of the changes in your esophagus, your doctor may suggest regular tests. He or she may also suggest ways for you to control GERD. This should help keep your Barrett’s from worsening.
Some changes in your lifestyle can help control your GERD. Your doctor may recommend:
- Losing weight
- Avoiding foods and drinks that make GERD worse, such as high-fat foods and chocolate
- Avoiding alcohol and tobacco
- Raising the head of your bed on 6″ blocks
Your doctor may prescribe medications to help control your GERD. Your health care provider or pharmacist can also tell you which medications may make GERD worse.
Surgery can help treat reflux that doesn’t get better with treatment. It can also help treat cancer. Your doctor can give you more information.
Stay in touch with your doctor and keep your appointments. Get checkups as often as your doctor suggests. This may include an endoscopy every 1-3 years. Some patients benefit from eliminating Barrett’s esophagus with the use of heat energy during endoscopy. Regular exams help catch any signs of cancer early, when it is easier to treat.