Barrett’s Esophagus

Submitted by Thiruvelan on Wed, 12/14/2011

Barrett's esophagus can also be called as Barrett's oesophagus, Barrett's esophagitis, Barrett’s disease, Barrett's syndrome, CELLO (columnar epithelium lined lower oesophagus), or Columnar-like esophagus.

What is Esophagus?

The esophagus is a muscular tube that carries foods from the mouth to the stomach. We are only aware of presence of the esophagus when we swallow something larger, try to eat and swallow faster or drinking very hot, or cold drinks. Esophagus has the special capacity; even when you are in upside-down position and drink water, esophagus can be able to push the water to stomach.

The pinched muscular layers at both the upper and lower ends of the esophagus called sphincters perform this amazing function. When you swallow, the sphincters relax to allow food to pass from the mouth into the stomach. The sphincters then close immediately to prevent the food/drink reflux back from the stomach into the esophagus and mouth.

What is Barrett’s Esophagus?

Barrett's esophagitis is a condition that changes the tissue lining of the esophagus with the lining similar to stomach.

The cell lining of the esophagus is different from that of stomach and intestine, because they are doing various functions and in different environment. In patients of Barrett’s esophagus, there is an abnormal growth of intestinal type cells into the esophagus.

Why there is a growth of intestinal type cell in the esophagus? The cell linings of the stomach are in the environment of acid, so made in such a way to withstand this harsh environment. The patients with GERD are having a frequent reflux of acid containing food from the stomach into the esophagus. Therefore, the acid attacks the esophagus and gets inflamed; our body defense mechanism thus starts building stomach cell lining into the esophagus to protect it against further acid attacks. At this stage, the patient’s symptoms start relieving because of this protection from acid attack. Still, there are many Barrett’s esophagus patients without GERD; in this case, the reason for the cause of Barrett’s esophagus is not clear.

If left untreated Barrett's esophagus may lead to lethal cancer in the esophagus called adenocarcinoma. Still, only a small number of people with Barrett's esophagus develop cancer. In recent years, the esophageal adenocarcinoma incidence has significantly increased.

Barrett’s Esophagus Causes

The exact causes of Barrett’s esophagus it still not clear, but GERD is considering one of the risk factor for this condition. Although there are patients of Barrett’s esophagus without GERD, the reason is still unknown.

  • The major cause of Barrett's esophagus is considering an adaptation to chronic acid exposure due to GERD.
  • Barrett's esophagus is diagnoses in 5 to 15% of patients who consult doctors for heartburn.
  • Barrett's esophagus occurs more frequent among men than women do.
  • You are more chances to have Barrett’s esophagus, if you have had GERD for a prolong time (chronic condition).
  • Barrett's esophagus increases with central obesity, may explain the increased risk in males.

Although a subgroup of patients with Barrett's esophagus does not have any symptoms or their symptoms vanished on growth of protective tissues on the esophagus. This stage is considering a premalignant condition, because it is associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer called adenocarcinoma.