Barrett’s syndrome is a disorder in which the tissues lining the esophagus get inflamed, due to the irritation caused by acid reflux. It also involves replacement of esophageal cells by those lining the intestines. This condition can lead to a deadly form of esophageal cancer.
Barrett’s syndrome is a gastrointestinal disorder in which the esophagus (tube carrying food from throat to stomach) lining gets damaged, and replaced by cells that are usually found in the intestine. Acid reflux from the stomach damages the flat-shaped squamous cells of the esophagus, which are then replaced by column-like cells of the intestine. This change of cell type is termed as metaplasia. It is a deleterious condition, because if neglected it can gradually lead to cancer.
Although the exact cause of this syndrome is not known, there are some causative factors that can lead to this condition. Factors such as age, obesity, gastrointestinal reflux disorder, gender, etc., are known to play a causative role. Moreover, around 60% of people with Barrett’s syndrome have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). People with chronic conditions of GERD are at higher risks of contracting this syndrome. Moreover, unhealthy eating habits, chronic heartburns, etc., can also lead to this condition.
Barrett’s syndrome does not have any particular symptoms of its own. People with this disorder experience the same symptoms of GERD. The symptoms are as follows:
- Chest pain
- Acid reflux (sour taste in mouth)
- Blood spots in vomit
- Blood in stool
- Pain while swallowing
- Sore throat
As far as internal symptoms are concerned, the cells lining the esophagus get replaced by the ones lining the intestine. The esophagus with changed cells is called Barrett’s esophagus. This can increase the risk of developing a deadly form of esophageal cancer called adenocarcinoma (malignant tumor originating in glandular epithelium).
The doctor may conduct an upper endoscopy or biopsy to diagnose the condition after performing a physical exam. During the endoscopy, he can examine the esophagus for any inflammation and irritation with the help of a small flexible tube attached to a camera. The tube is inserted through the patient’s mouth and into the patient’s esophagus, whereby, the doctor can view the esophagus and stomach regions.
This test is quite a vexing one for the patient, however, it’s something that just needs to be done. Furthermore, he may even conduct a biopsy if he finds something suspicious. With the help of a biopsy, he can inspect a sample of esophageal lining tissue and test for cancerous cells.
There is no specific cure for treating a Barrett’s esophagus. This disorder is very vague, with no specific symptoms or treatment line. However, since this condition can be fatal (can lead to a rare and deadly type of esophageal cancer), it needs proper medical intervention. Treatment generally involves treatment of GERD. The patient may be given antacids, cholinergic agents, promotility agents, histamine H2 receptor blockers, or proton pump inhibitors. The doctor will also keep his eyes open for early signs of cancer and will treat it accordingly.
If the syndrome is on the severe side, then, surgery is advised. However, since these surgeries involve several complications they are recommended only for people with esophageal cancer, or those who are highly vulnerable to get it. The surgery may involve removal of the esophageal segment affected. This surgery is called esophagectomy. Moreover, in another surgery called fundoplication, a part of the upper stomach is enfolded upon the esophagus, so as to decrease damage done to it by the acid reflux.
Barrett’s syndrome is a disorder affecting the esophageal lining and is a condition without specific cure. Hence, it is only wise to try to prevent the onset of this condition by controlling one’s weight, refraining from heartburn-causing foods like caffeine beverages, alcohol, spicy and acidic foods. Moreover, it is recommended not to eat or drink anything 3-4 hours before going to bed. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure!
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace expert medical advice.