Parkview Health Logo

Barrett's Esophagus

What is Barrett’s esophagus?

Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the tissue lining the esophagus (the muscular tube that carries food and fluids from the mouth to the stomach) is replaced by tissue that is similar to the intestinal lining.

People with Barrett’s esophagus are at increased risk for a rare and serious type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma. Typically before adenocarcinoma of the esophagus develops, pre-cancerous cells appear in the Barrett’s tissue. This condition is called dysplasia and is classified as low grade or high grade. The risk of developing adenocarcinoma of the esophagus in people with Barrett’s is 0.5 percent per year.

What causes Barrett’s esophagus?

The exact cause of Barrett’s esophagus is unknown, but some risk factors include:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious or chronic form of reflux that happens when stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus. Refluxed stomach acid that touches the lining of the esophagus can cause heartburn and damage the cells lining the esophagus.  About 5 to 10 percent of people with GERD develop Barrett’s esophagus.
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Genetics or inherited genes
  • Diet

How is Barrett’s esophagus diagnosed?

Barrett’s esophagus is diagnosed with an upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy using an endoscope, which is a small flexible tube with a light and a camera that allows the gastroenterologist (a doctor that specializes in diseases of the digestive tract) to see the GI tract. The gastroenterologist performs a biopsy by taking a small piece of tissue from the esophageal lining that will be evaluated by a pathologist who will determine if Barrett’s esophagus cells are present.

How is Barrett’s esophagus treated?

Treatment options are based on the person’s overall health, whether dysplasia is present, and the severity of the dysplasia.  Treatment options include:

  • Medications to control GERD to prevent further damage to the esophagus
  • Endoscopic ablative therapies
  • Radiofrequency ablation
  • Endoscopic mucosal resections
  • Surgery