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Barrett’s Esophagus

What is Barrett’s Esophagus?

Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the cells of the esophagus change to become more like intestinal cells. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is believed to be related to this condition, though it can develop in those without GERD as well. This condition causes an increased risk of esophageal cancer, so regular check-ins with your provider are recommended.

Some signs and symptoms that may be associated with Barrett’s esophagus may include:

  • Heartburn that gets worse when you wake up after sleeping.
  • Difficult or painful swallowing.
  • A feeling that food is stuck in your throat.
  • Continual sore throat.
  • Bad breath or a sour taste in the mouth.
  • Unintentional weight loss.

White middle-aged males are most commonly diagnosed with this condition. However, you may also be at an increased risk if you are over 50 years old, have chronic heartburn and acid reflux, are a smoker or have a family history of Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer.

How is Barrett’s Esophagus Diagnosed?

In order to diagnose Barrett’s esophagus, an upper endoscopy must be performed. During this test, a small tube called an endoscope will be inserted into the throat and esophagus to look for changes in the esophageal lining. Healthy tissues will appear pale and glossy, while Barrett’s esophagus causes tissues to appear red and velvety. Small samples of tissue called biopsies will be taken, which will be examined by a pathologist in order to determine a diagnosis.

The pathologist will look to see if your tissues contain abnormal cells, which is called dysplasia. Your samples will be classified as one of the following:

No Dysplasia

Barrett’s esophagus is present, but there are no signs of precancerous cells or changes in the cells.

Low-Grade Dysplasia

Small signs of precancerous changes were detected in the cells.

High-Grade Dysplasia

Many changed were detected in the cells. This is the final step before the cells develop into esophageal cancer.

Barrett’s Esophagus Treatment Options

Treatment options for Barrett’s esophagus will depend on the amount of abnormal cell growth found in your esophageal tissues. Treatment has been categorized as the following:

No Dysplasia

To address Barrett’s esophagus with no dysplasia, your provider will likely recommend periodic endoscopy tests to look for changes over time. Medication and lifestyle changes to control GERD symptoms may also be prescribed.

Low-Grade Dysplasia

In cases where low-grade dysplasia is detected, regular endoscopy tests may be needed to look for additional changes over time. Other treatment options may include an endoscopic resection, radiofrequency ablation or cryotherapy.

High-Grade Dysplasia

High-grade dysplasia is believed to be the final step before esophageal cancer. Your doctor may perform endoscopic resection, radiofrequency ablation or cryotherapy. Another surgical option may involve the removal of the damaged part of the esophagus and attaching the remaining, healthy portion to the stomach.

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At South Denver GI, our team of physicians and advanced practice providers have the expertise to provide you with outstanding care. If you would like to learn more about Barrett’s Esophagus or need to schedule an appointment at our office, contact us today!

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