If you suffer from the chronic symptoms of gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD), one of the more serious complications that can occur is Barrett’s esophagus. The condition is marked by a change in the tissue that lines the esophagus. Specifically, the normal tissue begins to resemble the tissue that lines the intestines. Although there are no specific symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus, the condition can lead to esophageal adenocarcinoma (cancer) in about one percent of people.
Although most people with Barrett’s esophagus first display symptoms of GERD, this is not true in 100 percent of cases. Most people who have GERD never develop the condition, and some people develop Barrett’s with no signs of GERD. However, you should be screened for Barrett’s if you have symptoms of GERD. White males are most commonly affected by this condition, especially those who develop GERD at a young age.
Symptoms of Barrett’s Esophagus
GERD can cause a range of problems, due to the fact that it is caused by the reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- Burning Sensation in the Back of the Throat
- Sour Taste
- Chronic Cough
In many cases, the acid that refluxes into the esophagus causing the cells that line your esophagus to change. As previously stated, there are no actual symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus. If you have symptoms of GERD, schedule a screening with Dr. Tabib. He can diagnose your condition and check for early indicators of cancer.
Because Barrett’s esophagus has no symptoms, the only way to properly diagnose the condition is the use of an upper endoscopy and biopsy. Using an endoscope – a long, adjustable tube equipped with a camera – Dr. Tabib can examine the lining of your esophagus. If the tissue appears to be abnormal, a tissue sample can be taken and sent to the lab for confirmation. If you are diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, future regular screenings should be scheduled to periodically check for signs of dysplasia and cancer.
Barrett’s Esophagus Treatment
Treating Barrett’s esophagus is usually a matter of treating the symptoms of GERD. This is usually accomplished through the use of acid-blocking drugs, as a reduction in acid reflux can sometimes prevent further changes to the tissue. However, there is no evidence that reducing the symptoms of GERD improves the chances of avoiding cancer. In extreme cases, the surgical removal of the esophagus may be recommended. This is a serious procedure and is not recommended for most people. In this surgery, a large section of the esophagus is removed and the stomach is moved up into the chest to connect to the remaining section.
More conservative treatments for Barrett’s esophagus may include:
- Dietary changes: reduce your intake of fatty foods, spicy foods, caffeine, and chocolate.
- Quit smoking: smoking is an early risk factor for developing GERD.
- Lose weight: obesity increases the risk of developing reflux.
- Change the way you rest: avoid eating for three hours before lying down and keep your head elevated during sleep.
A new treatment, involving the use of lasers to heat the abnormal tissue and destroy it, is now an option for treatment as well. Known as photodynamic therapy, this treatment can remove the damaged cells while preserving the healthy tissues of the esophagus.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Tabib, contact us today.