Barrett’s Esophagus

Barrett’s esophagus, however exotic sounding, is a serious complication of chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease.  Gastroesophageal reflux disease is usually used interchangeably with GERD (its acronym) and acid reflux.  But there are some key differences.  Acid reflux is the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus - the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. 


This backward flow occurs when the sphincter muscle at the lower end of your esophagus is weak or relaxes at the wrong time.  If the valve or sphincter is open, stomach acid is allowed to back up into your esophagus. This reflux can, in turn, cause heartburn, among other not so pleasant symptoms.

When acid reflux occurs regularly, that is at least twice a week, and the constant backflow of stomach acid irritates the lining of your esophagus, doctors will classify this as GERD.  Therefore GERD is really just persistent chronic acid reflux.  As GERD takes its toll over time, this can turn into Barrett’s esophagus in about 10% of people with chronic gastroesophageal reflux. 

Over time, the normal tissue lining of the esophagus begins to look more like intestinal lining instead.  Chronic acid reflux, linked to Barrett's esophagus and characterized by this abnormal change in the cells that line the esophagus as described, is also a precursor to esophageal cancer.

As GERD is the major risk factor for Barrett’s Esophagus, treating GERD and acid reflux symptoms should be a major priority.  At times, identifying that you have acid reflux can be tricky.  Many of the symptoms are not as obvious as heartburn, and can be mistaken for something as serious as a heart attack or as inconsequential as the common cold.  We see by the complications outlined earlier, that if left untreated, acid reflux can have rather serious complications.  Aside from GERD and Barret’s esophagus, acid reflux can painful irritation of the esophagus that can lead to bleeding, ulcers and scarring in the esophagus. 

Here are some common symptoms of acid reflux that could help you identify a problem sooner rather than later, and avoid the damage that chronic reflux could have:

·         Chest pain:  occurs because stomach acid is splashing into the esophagus, people often mistake it for a heart attack

·         Cough:  If you are experiencing a chronic cough and wheezing, this may not be a respiratory issue but rather stomach acid from reflux getting into your lungs

·         Hoarseness:  often mistaken for an early cold symptom – this can actually be the result of stomach acid seeping into esophagus and irritating the vocal cords

·         Sore throat: usually mistaken for seasonal allergies or cold symptom, a sore throat develops from the continuous irritation of acid on throat. An easy way to know to know it’s not a cold, is if you don’t develop other flu or cold- like symptoms

·         Regurgitation:  a sour or bitter-tasting acid backing up into your throat or mouth

·         Pain after meals: if the stomach is overloaded with a big fatty meal, this can trigger acid production and reflux. 

·         Choking:  sometimes acid from the stomach makes its way up to the throat and can cause choking.  If you wake up choking, this may be a sign of acid reflux

·         Trouble swallowing:  Over time, the continuous cycle of damage and healing after acid reflux can cause scarring.  This, in turn, causes swelling in the esophageal tissue, and a narrowing of the esophagus, resulting in difficulty swallowing