Steven Fleisher, MD, chief of gastroenterology at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center.
Barrett's esophagus is a disorder in which the lining of the esophagus (the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach), is damaged by stomach acid. The acid leaks from the stomach upward and back into the esophagus, causing a sensation that patients often describe as heartburn that never goes away.
The exact cause of Barrett’s esophagus is unknown, but gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a risk factor for the condition, and those with Barrett’s esophagus are at increased risk for a rare type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.
Symptoms of Barrett's esophagus may include:
- Burning pain in the esophagus
To create an individualized treatment plan, your MedStar Health specialist will want to determine if you have Barrett's esophagus. Your doctor will:
- Perform a thorough clinical examination and ask for a detailed family history.
- Order an esophagoscopy. In this test, your doctor examines the esophagus, using an endoscope, which is a thin, lighted tube inserted into your esophagus. This procedure is done using moderate sedation (also called a twilight sleep). If any abnormalities are seen with the scope, your doctor can perform a biopsy to be examined later in the lab.
- If the biopsy shows cells that have the potential of becoming malignant, called dysplastic cells, your doctor may order another biopsy in six to 12 months. With high-grade dysplasia, treatment is often advised at the time of diagnosis.
Non-Surgical Treatment Options
Your doctor will recommend medication to help control the symptoms of Barrett's esophagus. The following lifestyle changes may also be recommended:
- Eating smaller, more frequent meals
- Avoiding spicy foods
- Elevating your head while sleeping to prevent the acid from your stomach rolling backward
- Losing weight if you are overweight
- Taking medications with plenty of water
- Avoiding lying down after meals
- Avoiding alcohol and tobacco
In the past, surgical treatment for Barrett's esophagus usually involved removing the entire esophagus. Now, with minimally invasive endoscopic techniques, patients have more treatment options.