GERD: What is Barrett’s Esophagus?
Barrett’s Esophagus is a condition where the lining of the esophagus has been repeatedly damaged by exposure to stomach acid and the body repairs the damage using a different type of tissue. So instead of replacing the damaged cells with cells that would be found in the esophagus the cells are replaced with cells similar to those found in the intestine and because of this the process is known as intestinal metaplasia.
Barrett’s Esophagus does not give the sufferer any symptoms so it can only be diagnosed by visual examination using an endoscope.
The cells that line the esophagus and those that line the stomach are different types of cells which have different functions and there is a defined line which marks the border between the two. This defined line and the fact that the two types of cells also look very different make it easy for the physician to see the abnormal cells which have developed and to diagnose Barrett’s Esophagus.
There is no treatment to reverse this condition so the best possible treatment strategy is to prevent it occurring in the first place and this is why preventing acid reflux is so important. If you have never heard of Barrett’s Esophagus you might wonder why you would need to prevent a condition that causes no symptoms. The reason is that in a small percentage of cases the condition can progress to esophageal cancer.
As you cannot reverse the condition surgery or other alternative procedures will be recommended if a biopsy shows severe or high-grade dysplasia in the cells. Surgery can be used to remove the abnormal lining or laser or high energy treatment can be used to destroy the precancerous cells in situ.