Overview of Barrett’s Esophagus
Barrett’s Esophagus (BE) is a known complication of GERD. When the lower part of the esophagus is exposed to acid from the stomach, injury can occur. Usually this is in the form of inflammation (esophagitis), erosions or ulceration. BE is a special type of injury that is the result of more prolonged exposure of the lining that causes it to thicken and take on a salmon-colored appearance. This can be observed during an endoscopy. When biopsies are taken and studied under the microscope, the cells that line this salmon-colored area have taken on the appearance of small intestinal cells rather than the normal esophageal cells that should normally be present. This is called metaplasia and is an important type of injury because of the potential for developing cancer of the lower esophagus known as adenocarcinoma.
BE typically occurs after many years of acid exposure and occurs in twice as many men than women. Of all people with longstanding GERD, about 10% develop BE. Fortunately, only a small percentage of BE patients will develop adenocarcinoma but all adenocarcinoma of the esophagus is felt to originate within a segment of Barrett’s esophagus.
Screening for Barrett’s Esophagus
Patients with longstanding symptoms of and treatment for GERD should be screened for BE, especially middle-aged men. If BE is discovered, that patient will require endoscopy with biopsies of the area, looking for precancerous tissue (dysplasia) every 2-3 years). If dysplasia is discovered, further interventions and treatment options can be discussed with your gastroenterologist.