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% of people with chronic symptoms of GERD develop Barrett’s esophagus.
Barrett’s esophagus is the result of chronic exposure of the esophagus to acid and stomach contents and sometimes bile from the intestine. This backwash or reflux of gastric and intestinal contents is called gastro-esophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD.
Barrett esophagus itself does not cause symptoms. The acid reflux that causes Barrett esophagus often leads to symptoms of heartburn. Many people with this condition do not have any symptoms.
If you have frequent or long-standing acid reflux symptoms, you should consult a physician. Left untreated, acid reflux can lead to the development of pre-cancerous cells. In a small percentage of patients, that can result in a life-threatening cancer of the esophagus (esophageal adenocarcinoma or EAC).
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:
- Make changes in your diet. Fatty foods, chocolate, caffeine, spicy foods, and peppermint can aggravate reflux.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and tobacco.
- Lose weight. Being overweight increases your risk for reflux.
- Sleep with the head of the bed elevated. Sleeping with your head raised may help prevent the acid in your stomach from flowing up into the esophagus.
- Don’t lie down for 3 hours after eating.
- Take all medicines with plenty of water.
- The doctor may also prescribe medications to help. Those medications may include:
- Proton pump inhibitors that reduce the production of stomach acid
- Antacids to neutralize stomach acid
- H2 blockers that lessen the release of stomach acid
- Promotility agents — drugs that speed up the movement of food from the stomach to the intestines
There are several treatments, including surgery, that are designed specifically to focus on the abnormal tissue.