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Barrett's esophagus
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Barrett's esophagus

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DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Cancer

Causes

Barrett's esophagus is a complication of long term acid reflux disease. Barrett's esophagus is, the link between Barrett's esophagus and acid reflux disease, and the link to esophageal cancer.

Common heartburn isn't always just an annoying condition that's quickly remedied by an over-the-counter antacid. It can also be symptomatic of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is the chronic regurgitation of acid from your stomach into your lower esophagus. And, long-term GERD can sometimes lead to Barrett's esophagus, a condition in which the color and composition of the cells lining your lower esophagus change because of repeated exposure to stomach acid. Having Barrett's esophagus increases your risk of developing esophageal cancer.

Barrett's esophagus usually develops from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Heartburn and acid reflux are the most common symptoms of GERD and result from stomach contents washing into the esophagus.

The ring of muscle at the junction of the esophagus and stomach (sphincter) normally traps acid in your stomach by clamping shut. GERD usually results from a weakened sphincter, and it can be aggravated by a protrusion of the upper stomach, where the esophagus passes through the diaphragm (hiatal hernia).

Left untreated, GERD can lead to more serious complications such as severe heartburn (with esophagitis) — the chest pain can be intense enough to resemble a heart attack — stricture, bleeding, Barrett's esophagus and even esophageal cancer.

Risk factors

Chronic heartburn and acid reflux put you at risk of GERD and Barrett's esophagus because the esophagus is designed to carry food and liquid only one way: from your mouth to your stomach. The esophageal lining is sensitive to and unable to handle acid. Your stomach, however, has a lining designed to withstand acid-containing stomach (gastric) contents.

Stomach acid is damaging to esophageal tissue. Repeated and long-term exposure to stomach acid can lead to the transformation of esophageal tissue into the salmon-colored tissue characteristic of Barrett's esophagus, which is actually an acid-resistant lining similar to the lining of your stomach.

Men are more likely to develop Barrett's esophagus than women are. The disease is also more common in people over the age of 60 than it is in younger adults.

When to seek medical advice

See your doctor if you've had long-term trouble with heartburn and acid reflux. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you:

  • Have difficulty swallowing

  • Are vomiting red blood or blood that looks like coffee grounds

  • Are passing black, tarry or bloody stools

  • Experience an unexpected weight loss

Barrett's esophagus > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4 > 

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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Last Modified : 03/14/08 07:03 PM