What Is Barrett's Esophagus and What Are the Treatment Options?

If you have GERD, which stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease, stomach acid washes up into your esophagus – the tube which carries food from the mouth to the stomach. You’re familiar with the unpleasant symptoms of a burning throat and heartburn. GERD is bad enough, but it can cause serious tissue damage, as happens with the condition known as Barrett’s esophagus.

With Barrett’s esophagus, the tissue lining this tube becomes damaged by stomach acid and converts to tissue that is much like the lining of the intestine. This complication occurs in about 10% of people with GERD.

Symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus

Barrett’s esophagus doesn’t have any symptoms other than those that occur with GERD. You may experience heartburn, nausea and vomiting, a burning sensation at the back of the throat, difficulty when swallowing, and bad breath.

Complications of Barrett’s esophagus

If you develop Barrett’s esophagus, you do have an increased risk of developing a potentially fatal type of cancer of the esophagus. Development of cancer is rare, but if you have Barrett’s esophagus, you should come in to see us at Digestive Disorders Associates for regular evaluations of your esophagus. We can detect cancerous cells early, before the cancer spreads and becomes harder to treat.

Detection of Barrett’s esophagus

Since Barrett’s esophagus has no clear symptoms, it must be diagnosed with an upper endoscopy and biopsy. This procedure is not routine, but we may recommend the tests in people who are at greater risk for Barrett’s esophagus. These risk factors include being older than age 50, suffering GERD for a long time, and being an overweight male. If you have a hiatal hernia, your risk of Barrett’s esophagus is also greater.

Typical treatment of Barrett’s esophagus

If you have Barrett’s esophagus but no precancerous or cancerous cells, you’ll be scheduled for regular endoscopies. We can put you on a schedule that makes sense for your disease state.

Treatment slows the progression of Barrett’s esophagus. We work to control your acid reflux with medicine and lifestyle changes.

We’ll recommend a dietary protocol that helps you avoid aggravating foods, such as fatty and/or spicy foods, chocolate, peppermint, caffeine, and alcohol. We can also help you quit tobacco use, which contributes symptoms of reflux.

At Digestive Disorders Associates, we also help you lose weight to help alleviate symptoms of reflux. Specific sleeping strategies, such as sleeping with the head of your bed elevated, can help prevent stomach acid from flowing up into your esophagus. Avoid lying down within three hours of eating and consume plenty of water, especially when you take medications.

We may also offer medications, such as proton pump inhibitors, to reduce the production of stomach acid. Antacids and H2 blockers lessen the release of stomach acid.

More intensive treatment for Barrett’s esophagus

You may benefit from radiofrequency ablation, which uses radio waves to destroy abnormal esophageal tissue, or photodynamic therapy, which uses a laser to kill abnormal cells.

Surgery to remove most of the esophagus may be required in severe cases of Barrett’s esophagus, especially when precancerous cells or cancer has been diagnosed.

Trust our expert team to help you manage GERD and its complications. People in Annapolis and the surrounding area can call our office or schedule an appointment using this website.  

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