Risk Factors for Barrett’s Disease and Reasons for a Fast and Accurate Diagnosis
Diagnosing Barrett’s esophagus early and quickly improves the likelihood of a good treatment outcome. Barrett’s esophagus affects about 1 percent of people in the United States, but many people who have this potentially precancerous condition are unaware of the disease.
About Barrett’s Esophagus
Food moves from your mouth through your esophagus to your stomach, where a churning action and strong stomach acids break down the food into smaller, more digestible components.
While the esophagus is a strong, muscular tube, delicate tissue lines its interior. The cells that make up the esophageal lining are different from those cells lining the stomach and small intestine, which are tough enough to withstand the corrosive effects of stomach acid. Because stomach acid does not normally contact the esophagus, esophageal cells are delicate and easily damaged by contact with this acid.
A valve prevents the corrosive stomach acid from moving backwards, up the esophagus. Sometimes, however, the valve malfunctions and allows stomach acid to enter the esophagus. Doctors refer to this as acid reflux.
Stomach acid can damage esophageal cells each time it enters the esophagus. With repeated exposure to stomach acid, esophageal cells can change to look more like the cells lining the stomach and intestines. Doctors refer to this condition as Barrett’s esophagus.
Barrett’s Esophagus Risk Factors
Several factors increase your risk for developing Barrett’s esophagus.
Chronic heartburn and acid reflux
Having heartburn and acid reflux for more than five years increases your risk for developing Barrett’s esophagus. In fact, the longer you have acid reflux, the greater your risk for developing Barrett’s esophagus.
The odds of developing Barrett’s esophagus increase as you get older. Fewer than 15 percent of all cases of Barrett’s esophagus are in people under the age of 55.
Men are three times more likely to develop Barrett’s esophagus than women.
Caucasians are more likely to develop Barrett’s esophagus than people of other races.
Overweight people are at higher risk for developing the condition than people of normal weight.
Smoking increases your risk for developing Barrett’s esophagus by further irritating the lining of the esophagus.
Unlike sporadic instances of acid reflux and the more chronic form of acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Barrett’s esophagus has no symptoms. Your doctor can diagnose Barrett’s esophagus only by performing an endoscopy, in which he inserts a thin, flexible tube with a camera and tools to take tissue samples for laboratory biopsy studies or uses more modern techniques such as Cellvizio for direct visualization of cell changes. .
Diagnosing Barrett’s disease early before too many damaged esophageal cells begin to resemble stomach and intestinal cells is important. While it is rare, the cells associated with Barrett’s esophagus can turn cancerous.
If you have several risk factors for Barrett’s esophagus, consult with your physician about having an endoscopy.