Barrett’s Esophagus: Symptoms,Causes and Risk Factors

Barrett's Esophagus

Barrett’s Esophagus is a complication of long lasting (chronic) and usually severe GERD (gastrointestinal reflux disease) but this condition is happening only in a small percentage of patients who have GERD. In the Barrett’s Esophagus, the tissue in your tube which is connecting your mouth and esophagus (stomach) is replaced by tissue which is similar to the intestinal lining. This condition is associated with an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer. [1] This risk is small but it is very important to have regular controls for the precancerous cells. If these cells are discovered, then they can be treated because in this way you can prevent esophageal cancer. This condition does not have any specific symptoms but the patients who are diagnosed with Barrett’s Esophagus can feel some symptoms which are related to GERD. Also there are chances that you can develop adenocarcinoma if you are diagnosed with GERD (which is serious and potentially fatal cancer of the esophagus). But people who are diagnosed with Barrett’s Esophagus have increased chances of getting cancer. If you are diagnosed with this condition, then you should make regular routine examinations of the esophagus.

Symptoms of Barrett’s Esophagus

The tissues changes which are characterizing the Barrett’s Esophagus are causing no symptoms. If you feel some signs and symptoms, then you should know they are due to the GERD and they can include:

  • Less commonly, chest pain
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Difficulty swallowing food

There are many people who suffer from this condition and they are not experiencing some signs and symptoms. If you have a chest pain which can be a symptom of a heart attack, then you should visit your doctor as soon as possible. Also if you have difficulty swallowing, then this is also a sign that you need to talk with your doctor. If you are passing bloody, tarry or black stools, then you should visit your doctor as soon as possible. If you have blood that looks like coffee grounds or if you are vomiting red blood, then you should visit your doctor.

Causes of Barrett’s Esophagus

The exact cause for the Barrett’s Esophagus is still not known. Most people who are diagnosed with Barrett’s Esophagus have long – standing GERD. In the gastrointestinal reflux disease, stomach contents wash back into the esophagus which is damaging the esophagus tissue. The esophagus tries to heal itself and the cells can change to the type of cells which are found in the Barrett’s Esophagus. But also there are some people who are diagnosed with this condition and they have never experienced acid reflux or heartburn. It is not known what the real cause for this condition in these people is.

Barrett's Esophagus

Risk factors: There are some factors which can increase your risk of getting Barrett’s Esophagus such as

  • Smoking [2]
  • Being overweight: When we are overweight, then the body fat which is around our abdomen is increasing the risk of getting this condition. [3]
  • Being white: There are some studies in which is said that the white people are having increased chances of getting Barrett’s Esophagus compared to people of other races. [4]
  • Being a man: There are some studies in which scientists have said that men are having increased chances of getting Barrett’s Esophagus compared to women. [5]
  • Age: Barrett’s Esophagus can happen in any age but this condition is more common in older adults.
  • Chronic heartburn and acid reflux: If you have a GERD that requires regular medication or if you have a GERD for more than 5 years and being older than 50, then these conditions are increasing your risk of getting Barrett’s Esophagus. Also your risk can be increased if you are 30 years old or younger and you have GERD. When the GERD develops, then your risk is increasing. [1]

Complications: People who are suffering from Barrett’s Esophagus have increased chances of getting esophageal cancer [1]. This risk is small, especially in people who have made lab tests and they do not show no dysplasia (precancerous changes) in their esophagus cells. Also it is said that the most people who suffer from Barrett’s Esophagus will never develop esophageal cancer.


[1] Shaheen N, Ransohoff DF. Gastroesophageal reflux, Barrett esophagus, and esophageal cancer: Scientific review. JAMA. 2002;287(15):1972-81.

[2] Cook MB, Shaheen NJ, Anderson LA, et al. Cigarette smoking increases risk of Barrett’s esophagus: An analysis of the Barrett’s and esophageal adenocarcinoma consortium. Gastroenterology. 2012;142(4):744-53.

[3] Watari J, Hori K, Toyoshima F, et al. Association between obesity and Barrett’s esophagus in a Japanese population: a hospital-based, cross-sectional study. BMC Gastroenterology. 2013;143.

[4] Abrams JA, Fields S, Lightdale CJ, Neugut AI. Racial and ethnic disparities in the prevalence of Barrett’s esophagus among patients who undergo upper endoscopy. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2008;6(1):30–4.

[5] Rubenstein JH, Mattek N, Eisen G. Age- and gender-specific yield of Barrett’s esophagus by endoscopy indication. Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. 2010;71(1):21.


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