Barrett’s esophagus is defined as the tissue in the esophagus (tube connecting the mouth and stomach) being replaced by tissue similar to the intestinal lining.
Barrett’s esophagus may occur in people suffering from a long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a chronic regurgitation of acid from the stomach into the lower esophagus.
Moreover, Barrett’s esophagus may be an indication of risk for esophageal cancer.
The changes in the tissue in Barrett’s esophagus cause no symptoms; however, the symptoms that do occur are mainly due to GERD.
Some of them include:
- Difficulty swallowing food
- Recurrent heartburn
- Chest pain (rarely)
More severe symptoms that require medical attention include:
- Chest pain
- Vomiting red blood or blood in the form of grounds
- Passing black or bloody stools
The exact cause of Barrett’s esophagus is undetermined. Barrett’s esophagus is usually diagnosed in people suffering from long-term GERD. In GERD, stomach contents are washed back into the esophagus causing damage to the tissue. During the tissue’s healing process the cells may change to the type of cells in Barrett’s esophagus.
Risk factors for Barrett’s esophagus include:
- Chronic heartburn and acid reflux: A chronic or recurrent GERD after the age of 50 can increase the risk of Barrett’s esophagus.
- Age: More common cases of Barrett’s esophagus occur in older adults.
- Gender: Men have a higher risk of developing the disease.
- Race: The risk of Barrett’s esophagus is greater for white people than for people of other races.
- Weight: Being overweight (body fat around the abdomen) can increase the risk of Barrett’s esophagus.
A rare complication that may occur due to Barrett’s esophagus is esophageal cancer. The likelihood of the cancer developing is very small and most people with the disease never develop esophageal cancer.