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Barrett’s Esophagus: A Cause For Alarm!!
What Exactly Is Barrett’s Esophagus?
Just as you had experienced for the last several months, you always felt the onslaught of indigestion accompanied by its close cousin, heartburn. Considering how hard it had become to swallow with a constant sore throat, you had rarely eaten all of your meals. What then was causing this all too familiar agony? After the consumption of probably a shelf full of antacids, it was time to seek professional help.
Even through the excessive belching, the gastroenterologist was able to diagnose your problem; Barrett’s Esophagus. Although you’d never heard of this, the regimen of aciphex and the restricted diet was a strong indication that Barrett’s Esophagus was a very serious disease.
Found primarily in caucasion men, Barrett’s Esophagus is a complication associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD, in which there is a reflux of acidic fluid from the stomach into the esophagus. The most common symptom is heartburn caused by the acidified liquid content of the stomach backing up into the esophagus. GERD is commonly known to damage the lining of the esophagus creating complications such as ulcers and strictures.
What Actually Causes Barrett’s Esophagus?
Although originally believed to be congenital abnormality, Barrett's esophagus is a direct consequence of GERD, perpetuated by many years of chronic and usually severe acid reflux. Even though stomach fluid is highly acidic by itself, it may also contain bile fluid produced by the liver. The acid that refluxes from the stomach is injurious to the esophagus, but acid combined with bile acid may be more injurious than stomach acid alone.
Are the Symptoms of Barrett’s Esophagus Distinguishable?
Most people have indigestion or heartburn from time to time dependent upon food they’ve ingested or maybe an overindulgence of alcohol or a strongly acidic drink. Barrett’s Esophagus is much more serious than this. Though there are no unique symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus, it is thought of as a very severe form of GERD. In this case, the symptoms of heartburn and indigestion last far longer and are much more severe (painful) than normal heartburn and indigestion. These strong symptoms are often accompanied by continual belching that may evolve into regurgitation.
Even though GERD is a prerequisite to Barrett’s Esophagus, not all Barrett’s patients have marked symptoms of GERD. In some cases, patients have been diagnosed with no symptoms of GERD at all.
Why So Much Concern?
Unfortunately, one of the main concerns with this condition is the increased risk of cancer of the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma, as this particular cancer is known, develops in the metaplastic tissue that lines the inner surface of the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma, the most common type of esophageal cancer in the U.S. is usually found in the lower part of the esophagus, near the stomach. Diagnosis of this condition is done through an Upper GI endoscopy and a biopsy. Using an endoscope equipped with a small camera to view the upper GI tract, a gastroenterologist will retransmit video imagines to a monitor. This allows the gastroenterologist to more closely examine the intestinal lining.
A biopsy is then performed with the endoscope by taking a small piece of tissue from the esophageal lining for examination. A pathologist will then examine the tissue to determine whether Barrett’s esophagus cells are present.
How Is This Condition Treated?
Depending on an individual’s overall health, treatment options for Barrett’s Esophagus include medications, surgery, endoscopic ablative therapies, and endoscopic mucosal resection. Patients who have GERD are treated with acid-suppressing medications that are used to prevent further damage to the esophagus and, in many cases, actually heal existing damage.
Individuals with GERD symptoms who do not respond to medications may opt to have Anti-reflux surgery. For individuals with other medical problems, surgery may not be an option. For these individuals, the less-invasive endoscopic treatments are recommended.