One type of GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease is Barrett’s Esophagus, which is a serious disease that individuals should always look out for – especially those who have GERD.
This condition involves the tissues lining the esophagus to actually change into tissues that resemble the ones that are lining the intestine. Even if a small percentage of people are most likely to develop Barrett’s Esophagus, it is still alarming since this condition could also trigger the development of esophageal adenocarcinoma which is a serious cancer of the esophagus.
Although considered rare, it is still important for patients diagnosed with Barrett’s Esophagus to have their esophagus checked through routine examinations.
Barrett’s Esophagus doesn’t really have any specific symptoms. However patients who have this condition could still experience symptoms similar to GERD’s.
How is GERD related to Barrett’s Esophagus?
GERD symptoms often include heartburn, chronic cough, burning sensation in the back part of the throat, nausea, and laryngitis. Having said, patients with Barrett’s Esophagus may also encounter similar symptoms.
Every time we eat or drink water, the food and the liquid that we swallow would go through a hollow muscular tube from our throat down to our stomach which we call the esophagus.
At the lower end of the esophageal sphincter, there’s a ring muscle which is joint to the stomach, responsible for keeping the stomach contents to enter the esophagus. Scientifically speaking, our body is known to produce natural acid in order to digest food properly. Despite the acid development in the stomach, it still makes sure the said system is protected from the acid. However, people with GERD experiences acid reflux because the acid was able to rise up to the esophagus.
Doesn’t mean that people with acid reflux would automatically catch Barrett’s Esophagus. But due to recurring acid reflux, the normal cells in the esophagus would turn into cells that are similar to the intestines’ which then leads to Barrett’s Esophagus.
What are the risk factors of Barrett’s Esophagus?
People who have the following factors have higher risks of developing the condition:
- Age – Even though Barrett’s Esophagus may occur at any age, older people are said to be more vulnerable.
- Race – Unlike other races, white people are prone to Barrett’s Esophagus.
- Gender – Men are said to develop Barrett’s Esophagus more than women do.
- Obesity – In terms of being overweight, the fats located in the abdomen contributes to the risks of developing Barrett’s Esophagus
- Lifestyle – Current or past smoking could also increase one’s chances of catching Barrett’s Esophagus
How is Barrett’s Esophagus diagnosed?
Since there are no specific symptoms to identify Barrett’s Esophagus, an upper endoscopy and biopsy will be needed to diagnose the condition. Most especially for people who have multiple factors, a series of guidelines and tests will be conducted.
Endoscopy – A gastroenterologist will have to insert a long flexible tube with an attached camera into the throat down to the esophagus in order for the doctor to see the lining of the esophagus. The process seems scary and it may be uncomfortable but it’s not painful at all since the doctor will be giving the patient some sedative.
Biopsy – To confirm a diagnosis, the doctor will have to remove a sample tissue for him/her to have it checked under a microscope. Aside from checking for Barrett’s Esophagus, biopsy can also detect early signs of possible cancer on the esophagus.
If the doctor advises there are no pre-cancerous cells present but Barrett’s Esophagus is confirmed after the biopsy, he/she will then recommend periodic repeat of endoscopy. This is needed because pre-cancerous cells may still develop in the Barrett tissue even years after the diagnosis.
How is Barrett’s Esophagus treated?
Treatments that the doctor will recommend is to prevent or control acid reflux to help delay the development of Barrett’s Esophagus.
Some ways to treat the condition is by changing one’s lifestyle and with the help of medications.
Changes in lifestyle should include the following:
- Avoiding fatty foods, chocolates, peppermint, spicy foods, and caffeine
- Avoid lying down after eating
- Stop drinking carbonated drinks, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks
- Quit smoking
- Increasing water intake while on medication
- Avoid sleeping with the head elevated
- Losing weight by exercising regularly
Aside from shifting into a clean lifestyle, the doctor will also recommend some medications.
Some of the recommended treatments may also include:
- Antacids – for the neutralization of stomach acid
- Proton pump inhibitors – for the reduction of stomach acid production
- Promotility agents – to speed up the flow of food from the stomach to the intestines
- H2 Blockers – to lessen the release of stomach acid
What other treatments are done for the specific Barrett tissue?
Apart from the medications, one may also undergo surgery since there are several surgical treatments designed to treat the abnormal tissue.
- Endoscopic spray cryotherapy – is considered a new technique which involves the application of nitrogen or carbon dioxide gas to freeze the Barrett cells.
- Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) – with the use of an endoscope, radio waves will be sent to destroy the abnormal cells.
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT) – this procedure uses a laser through the endoscope to get rid of the abnormal cells in the lining of the esophagus.
- Endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR) – before the procedure, an ultrasound it conducted to further check the positioning of the cancer cells if there are any. The goal of this treatment is to kill the precancerous cells.
- Surgery – this is usually an option wherein it involves the removal of the esophagus if the cancer is already severe.
Just like what I’ve mentioned above, not all patients who have GERD will automatically have Barrett’s Esophagus. And not all who has Barrett’s can develop cancer. However, for health’s sake, it is important to still have a routine check-up for further diagnosis.
Remember that one may also prevent this kind of condition if by living a clean and healthy lifestyle.