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Barrett's esophagus
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Barrett's esophagus

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DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Cancer

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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.

You may eliminate or reduce the frequency of stomach acids flowing up into the lower end of your esophagus by making the following lifestyle changes:

  • Control your weight. Being overweight is one of the strongest risk factors for heartburn. Excess pounds put pressure on your abdomen, pushing up your stomach and causing acid to back up into your esophagus.

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Three meals a day, with small snacks in between, will help you stop overeating. Continual overeating leads to excess weight, which aggravates heartburn.

  • Loosen your belt. Clothes that fit tightly around your waist put pressure on your abdomen, aggravating reflux.

  • Eliminate heartburn triggers. Everyone has specific triggers. Common triggers such as fatty or fried foods, alcohol, chocolate, peppermint, garlic, onion, caffeine and nicotine may make heartburn worse.

  • Avoid stooping or bending. Tying your shoes is OK. Bending over for hours to weed your garden isn't, especially soon after eating.

  • Don't lie down after eating. Wait at least two to three hours after eating to lie down or go to bed.

  • Raise the head of your bed. An elevation of 6 to 9 inches puts gravity to work for you. Or you can insert a wedge between your mattress and box spring to elevate your body from the waist up. Wedges are available at drugstores and medical supply stores. Raising your head alone by using pillows isn't a good alternative.

  • Don't smoke. Smoking may increase stomach acid. The swallowing of air during smoking also may aggravate belching and acid reflux. In addition, smoking and alcohol increase your risk of esophageal cancer.

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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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