What is Barrett’s esophagus?

Most people are familiar with a medical condition called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) which is often accompanied by symptoms such as heartburn or regurgitation. This condition may cause Barrett’s esophagus.

“In some people, this GERD may trigger a change in the cells lining the lower esophagus, causing Barrett’s esophagus,” according to the Mayo Clinic website on patient care and health information

“The exact cause of Barrett's esophagus isn't known. While many people with Barrett's esophagus have long-standing GERD, many have no reflux symptoms, a condition often called “silent reflux,” the website said.

“Whether this acid reflux is accompanied by GERD symptoms or not, stomach acid and chemicals wash back into the esophagus, damaging esophagus tissue and triggering changes to the lining of the swallowing tube, causing Barrett's esophagus.”

 “Barrett's esophagus is associated with an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer. Although the risk of developing esophageal cancer is small, it's important to have regular checkups with careful imaging and extensive biopsies of the esophagus to check for precancerous cells (dysplasia). If precancerous cells are discovered, they can be treated to prevent esophageal cancer,” the Mayo Clinic website explained.

“The risk is small, even in people who have precancerous changes in their esophagus cells. Fortunately, most people with Barrett's esophagus will never develop esophageal cancer,” the same website explained.

Factors that increase your risk of Barrett's esophagus include: Family history, being male, being white, age (more common in adults over 50); chronic heartburn and acid reflux (having GERD that doesn't get better when taking medications or having GERD that requires regular medication can increase the risk of Barrett's esophagus); current or past smoking; being overweight (body fat around your abdomen further increases your risk),” according to Mayo Clinic.