Barrett's esophagus is a serious complication of GERD, which stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. In Barrett's esophagus, normal tissue lining the esophagus -- the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach -- changes to tissue that resembles the lining of the intestine. About 10%-15% of people with chronic symptoms of GERD develop Barrett's esophagus.
Barrett's esophagus does not have any specific symptoms. Patients with Barrett's esophagus may have symptoms related to GERD. It does increase the risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma, which is a serious, potentially fatal cancer of the esophagus.
Although the risk of this cancer is higher in people with Barrett's esophagus, the disease is still rare. Less than 1% of the people with Barrett's esophagus develop this particular cancer. Nevertheless, if you've been diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus, it's important to have routine examinations of your esophagus. With routine examination, your doctor can discover precancerous and cancer cells early, before they spread and when the disease is easier to treat.
Because there are often no specific symptoms associated with Barrett's esophagus, it can only be diagnosed with an upper endoscopy and biopsy. In general, doctors recommend that people over the age of 40 who have a long-term history of GERD be screened for Barrett's esophagus.
One of the primary goals of treatment is to prevent or slow the development of Barrett's esophagus by treating and controlling acid reflux. This is done with lifestyle changes and medication. Lifestyle changes include taking steps such as: