Barrett’s Esophagus is a condition in which the lining at the lower end of the esophagus is damaged by stomach acid. Normally, this acid is kept from splashing back into the esophagus by the lower esophageal sphincter, a muscular valve that opens and closes during eating and drinking. When the valve doesn’t work properly, one can experience a reflux of stomach acid, commonly known as heartburn or acid reflux.
When this irritation is severe or occurs regularly, it is referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD which, in turn, can cause an abnormal growth of intestinal-type cells, like those found in the stomach, to occur at the lower end of the esophagus. The abnormal growth, or dysplasia, of these cells in the area just above the lower esophageal sphincter is the distinguishing feature of Barrett’s Esophagus. In rare cases, the abnormal cells can result in cancer of the lower esophagus.
Diagnosis requires an upper endoscopy which examines the lining of the esophagus and stomach with a thin, flexible, lighted instrument called an endoscope. Tissue biopsies will also be collected and examined for the presence of abnormal cells.