Barrett’s esophagus

Barrett’s esophagus is a medical condition that silently settles in without any sort of symptoms whatsoever. It is caused by acid reflux and it can have some very ominous complications. The human body, just like any other living thing in nature, relies on some pretty intricate mechanisms meant to keep it healthy. Our immune system constantly patrols our body for alien intruders and dispatches them as quickly as possible, our blood coagulates when we cut ourselves in order to prevent blood loss, and many more processes keep our bodies protected and help us fight against various illnesses. However, there are some illnesses out there that turn our body’s mechanisms against itself and Barrett’s esophagus is one of them.

When the lining of the esophagus is repeatedly exposed to the acid from the stomach over periods of years, one such protective mechanism in our body activates itself and the cells that form the lining of the esophagus start altering themselves to better cope with the acid. Because of this, they become more like the cells in the intestines and this is not a good thing for several reasons.

First of all and the most obvious problem would be that the esophagus lining is not supposed to go through that mutation process in order to cope with something that shouldn’t happen in the first place, acid reflux.The second and less obvious problem is the fact that once this process has started and is under way, those who suffer from constant acid reflux disease will actually notice some relief from their symptoms and quite wrongly assume that their condition has improved. In fact, their condition has given birth to a new one: Barrett’s esophagus.

It has to be mentioned that Barrett’s esophagus settles in without any other symptoms, there is absolutely nothing else happening in the body that can offer a hint to what is truly happening to the esophageal lining.

As the disease continues to advance, the esophageal lining mutates again, this time creating dysplastic cells which are a precancerous condition. This is the moment where Barrett’s esophagus shows its full potential of causing esophageal cancer, and the statistics are frightening: it has been noticed that those who suffer from Barrett’s esophagus have a thirty to a hundred times higher chance of developing esophageal cancer than someone without acid reflux.This is what happens when our own bodies’ mechanisms are turned against the body, a silent and deadly killer settles in without us knowing.

Since Barrett’s esophagus has no symptoms, the only way of diagnosing it is by using gastrointestinal endoscopy and to biopsy parts of the esophagus to scan for changes in the wall lining. It is advisable for adults older than forty and who have been suffering from gastro-esophageal reflux disease for a number of years to undergo this procedure in order to check for this problem. Positive results might or might not appear because this disease is rather rare, but it is definitely always better to be safe than sorry.

Once someone is diagnosed as having Barrett’s esophagus, there are three possible solutions.

If the disease is still in the first stages, he or she will have to go for biopsies once in a while in order to check if the disease hasn’t started creating the precancerous cells.

If the problem is found from an earlier stage, it can be treated either through endoscopic treatments or surgery. The endoscopic treatments are photodynamic therapy and endoscopic mucosal resection, these are basically two methods through which the Barrett’s tissue in the esophagus is destroyed or removed.

The surgical treatment is the final option, normally implying the removal of a large portion of the esophagus.

Last updated on Jun 9th, 2010 and filed under Digestive Health. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed