Barrett’s Esophagus

Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the tissue lining the esophagus—the muscular tube that carries food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach—is replaced by tissue that is similar to the intestinal lining. This process is called intestinal metaplasia. People with Barrett’s esophagus are at increased risk for a type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

The exact cause of Barrett’s esophagus is unknown, but gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a risk factor for the condition. GERD is a more serious, chronic—or long-lasting—form of gastroesophageal reflux, a condition in which stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus. Refluxed stomach acid that touches the lining of the esophagus can cause heartburn and damage the cells in the esophagus. Heartburn, also called acid indigestion, is an uncomfortable, burning feeling in the midchest, behind the breastbone, or in the upper part of the abdomen—the area between the chest and hips. Between 5 and 10 percent of people with GERD develop Barrett’s esophagus.3 Other risk factors include obesity—specifically high levels of belly fat—and smoking. Some studies suggest that genetics, or inherited genes, may play a role.

Barrett’s esophagus can only be diagnosed with an upper GI endoscopy and biopsy.

The risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma in people with Barrett’s esophagus is about 0.5 percent per year. Typically, before esophageal adenocarcinoma develops, precancerous cells appear in the Barrett’s tissue can be treated before cancer develops.

For more information on Barrett’s Esophagus visit National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)

*Information from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the Colon Cancer Alliance and MedlinePlus Trusted Health Information for You

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