Top GI Doc NYC: Barrett’s Esophagus| NYC Gastroenterologists
Barrett’s esophagus is the medical condition that occurs when the cells in your lower esophagus are damaged from being exposed to too much stomach acid reflux. This condition is characterized by a change in the cells lining your esophagus: they become similar to those in lining of your small intestine. Barrett’s esophagus often appears in people who have long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), although only a small percentage of GERD sufferers get Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s Esophagus should always be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by a physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
A gastroenterologist’s diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus raises red flags because it increases the risk of cancer. In fact, it is a premalignant condition to esophageal adenocarcinoma, a form of cancer. The cancer risk is still small (less than one percent). In some cases, however, precancerous tissue, called dysplasia, develops. Dysplasia can be treated before it becomes cancerous. So if you have Barrett’s esophagus, you need more frequent cancer screenings.
Symptoms of Barrett’s Esophagus
If you have Barrett’s esophagus, you may not have any symptoms, or the symptoms you have are related to gastroesophageal reflux disease. These symptoms include: dry cough, frequent heartburn, chest pain, difficulty swallowing food and abdominal pain. These should be evaluated by a gastroenterologist.
Warning signs of trouble beyond GERD include:
- Black, tarry or bloody stools
- Vomiting blood
- Difficulty Swallowing
If you experience these advanced symptoms, you should seek medical help.
Causes of Barrett’s Esophagus
The most common theory is that Barrett’s esophagus develops after chronic inflammation from GERD. Not everyone who has had GERD gets this condition, and not everyone with Barrett’s esophagus suffered from GERD. Long-term GERD is an indicator, as is cigarette smoking.
Barrett’s esophagus is more likely to develop in older Caucasian men who have bouts of gastroesophageal reflux disease over a long period of time. If you had GERD at a young age, that’s another potential indicator. No one knows for sure what causes the condition, since many with Barrett’s esophagus never experienced acid reflux or heartburn issues.
Diagnosing Barrett’s Esophagus
Currently, only trained gastroenterologists like our doctors, using an upper endoscopy for visual confirmation, can make an accurate diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus. Our NYC GI doctors have to be able to see the change in the lining of your esophagus. A definitive diagnosis usually requires a biopsy of the tissue to confirm the change in the cells lining your esophagus.
A biopsy also can determine whether dysplasia cells are present and what stage (high grade or low grade) they are in. High-grade dysplasia cells are much more likely to become cancerous than low-grade dysplasia cells. Only with accurate information can our doctors prescribe appropriate remedies.
Treating Barrett’s Esophagus
Treatment for Barrett’s esophagus depends on whether high-grade, low-grade or no dysplasia is present in the affected cells. Without dysplasia, you’re treated to control your gastroesophageal reflux disease, usually with lifestyle changes, medicine and sometimes surgery.
While nothing can change the cells back from Barrett’s esophagus or eliminate the cancer risk, some treatments can destroy the tissue. These treatments may decrease the risk of cancer in some patients:
- Cold energy (such as cryotherapy)
- Endoscopic techniques (such as endoscopic mucosal resection)
- Heat (such as radiofrequency ablation)
- Using light and special chemicals (such as photodynamic therapy)
Since each of these procedures involve risk and since they are not effective for everyone, you should discuss these options and others with one of our doctors during your office visit.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide guidance, not definitive medical advice. Please consult a doctor about your specific condition. Only trained, experienced GI doctors like our doctors can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
As best in class NYC gastroenterologists, our doctors provide highly personalized and comprehensive care. Their philosophies regarding the doctor/patient relationship is based on trust and has earned them some of the most respected reputations in NYC.
For more information about the GI conditions we treat including Barrett’s Esophagus diagnosis & treatments; or to schedule a consultation with one of our GI doctors, please contact our NYC office.