Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the cells lining your lower esophagus become damaged, usually due to stomach acid exposure over a long period of time.
When you swallow, foods and liquids travel from your mouth through the esophagus to your stomach. At the end of the esophagus, there is a ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter, which closes tightly to keep stomach contents from rising back up.
When this ring of muscle does not function properly, stomach contents flow back up into your esophagus in a condition called gastroesophageal reflux – also known as acid reflux – and when more serious and chronic, known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This stomach acid causes inflammation that can damage the lining of your esophagus, resulting in Barrett’s esophagus.
The exact cause of Barrett’s esophagus is not fully understood, but long-term GERD is the number one risk factor. Not all people with GERD get Barrett’s esophagus - in fact, it develops in less than 10% of people with GERD. It is more common in people who have had GERD for a long time or who were diagnosed with it at a young age.
If you’re a man, you are twice as likely to develop Barrett’s esophagus, and even more so if you’re Caucasian. The average age at diagnosis is 55 years old. Other risk factors include obesity, especially excess belly fat, and cigarette smoking. Some studies suggest that there may also be a genetic (hereditary) risk.
Barrett’s esophagus can increase your risk of esophageal cancer.
Barrett’s esophagus itself does not have any specific symptoms. However, some people may experience symptoms of GERD including:
- Chest pain
- Frequent heartburn
- Difficulty swallowing food
- Regurgitation, sour taste in the back of throat
- Upper abdominal pain, pain in pit of stomach
- Chronic dry cough