Barrett’s esophagus is a condition that often happens to patients who have been diagnosed with GERD , or long-term gastrointestinal reflux disease. GERD is a chronic condition that can cause the stomach to push acid into the lower portion of the esophagus. While only about 10% of patients who suffer from GERD will develop Barrett’s esophagus, it is a serious problem, and it can increase the risk of those patients to develop esophageal cancer, which can be fatal.
When someone suffers from this condition, it means that the tissue lining that is in the esophagus is replaced by tissue that is similar to the tissue that lines the intestines.
Even though the tissue itself might change in the esophagus, you will find that there are no specific symptoms to this condition. Instead, the symptoms that a person experiences are related to their acid reflux itself. For example, the patient might find that they have frequent heartburn or epigastric/chest pain.
The idea is that chronic acid reflux into the esophagus leads to inflammation of the cells in that region. Chronic inflammation can lead to the changes resulting in Barrett’s esophagus. There are some additional risk factors that can increase a person’s risk. In addition to having GERD that does not improve, even with medications, you will find that Caucasian men, the elderly, obese individuals, and smokers are at higher risk.
An endoscopy is a gold standard to diagnose this condition. The endoscope is a tube that features a tiny camera and light at the end. This will be passed into the throat, where the doctors can look to see if there is any change in the tissue of the esophagus. They will also take a biopsy of the tissue to determine the degree of the change, which can be low-grade dysplasia or high-grade dysplasia, or there may be no dysplasia at all. Low-grade dysplasia will show that the cells have some small precancerous changes. High-grade dysplasia is more serious, and it is often the last stage before the cells develop cancer.
Depending on the severity of the issue, there are different types of treatment used. For patients with any degree of dysplasia ablation therapies including RFA and Cryotherapy have been shown to be effective at reducing their risk for developing esophagus cancer. These therapies can be performed on an outpatient basis with an endoscope and have a high rate of success for curing Barrett’s esophagus.
Other endoscopic therapies include endoscopic mucosal resection – where an endoscope is used to remove parts of the lining of the diseased esophagus.
Are you interested in learning more about Barrett’s esophagus, or other GI conditions? We invite you to contact us to learn more. Dr. Prashant Kedia is a therapeutic endoscopist and gastroenterologist serving patients in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and beyond. Call today to schedule an appointment at (214) 941-6891.