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Barrett’s esophagus is a disorder in which the lining of the esophagus is damaged by stomach acid and changed to the lining similar to that of the stomach. The lining of the esophagus is squamous epithelium, but when stomach acid damages it, it is changed to columnar epithelium. Although this may seem just like a case of heartburn, it is in fact very dangerous because it can lead to cancer of the esophagus.
The stomach produces acid in order to digest food, but the lining of the stomach has an alkaline coating that protects it from the severe acidity of the stomach acids. When stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, it damages the lower portion of the esophagus and also damages the cardiac sphincter, which is the muscle that is supposed to keep stomach acid and food in the stomach. This is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or heartburn. People who suffer from acid reflux or heartburn for a long period of time develop Barrett’s esophagus.
Barrett’s esophagus does not have any symptoms. All the symptoms that are associated with Barrett’s esophagus are related to gastroesophageal reflux disease. People with Barrett’s esophagus suffer from heartburn. It is advised that people who constantly suffer from heartburn for long periods of time get tested. Testing for Barrett’s esophagus is called an endoscopy. A thin tube with a camera on the end is inserted into the mouth and passed through the esophagus and stomach. The doctor will perform biopsies in different parts of the esophagus to diagnose Barrett’s esophagus.
The best treatment for Barrett’s esophagus is to prevent it from happening. This can be done by treating gastroesophageal reflux disease. There are many ways to treat this. The first method of treating acid reflux is to take antacids after meals and before bedtime. Another way is to take histamine H2 receptor blockers. The third way is to take proton pump inhibitors. These stop the acid from backing up into the esophagus and damaging the tissue, thus preventing Barrett’s esophagus. If it is too late and someone already has Barrett’s esophagus, then surgery is the only option of treatment. Photodynamic therapy uses a special laser to destroy the precancerous tissue and remove the abnormal lining.
A diagnosis of GERD is not a cause of major alarm. It is common among many American adults. Only a small percentage of people with GERD develop Barrett’s esophagus and less than one percent of those people with Barrett’s esophagus develop esophageal cancer. It is advised that you talk to a doctor if you are suffering from heartburn for longer than a week. This way the doctors will be able to treat this condition before any major harm is done.