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Barrett’s Esophagus

Barrett’s esophagus is a change in the lining of the muscular tube that transports your food from your mouth to your stomach. In people who have Barrett’s, the tissue lining the esophagus becomes more like the tissue lining the small intestine.

This change sometimes results in dysplasia, abnormal cell growth that can lead to esophageal cancer. 

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the biggest risk factor for developing Barrett’s esophagus.

Barrett’s esophagus: what you should know

  • About 10 percent of people with GERD have Barrett's esophagus.
  • Five to 10 percent of people with Barrett’s esophagus develop esophageal cancer.
  • Barrett’s esophagus does not cause symptoms, but people who develop it often have other problems caused by GERD:
    • Frequent heartburn
    • Trouble swallowing
    • Fluid at the back of the throat
  • Diagnosing and treating GERD may help prevent Barrett’s esophagus.

How can I get help for Barrett’s esophagus?

If you have chronic acid reflux, or GERD, for more than three years, you should be tested for Barrett’s esophagus.

At Rush, gastroenterologists will likely use endoscopy to diagnose Barrett’s esophagus and look for the abnormal cell growth that can lead to esophageal cancer.

During an endoscopy, doctors use a specially designed scope to examine the esophagus and take tissue samples, when necessary. Doctors then examine the tissue samples for any abnormal cell growth.

Care for Barrett’s esophagus at Rush

Caring for GERD with medications and lifestyle changes can help keep Barrett’s esophagus from progressing. Your doctor may recommend having an endoscopy at different intervals to check on the progression of this abnormal tissue.

If they find abnormal cell growth that may lead to cancer, doctors at Rush may recommend one of the following procedures:

  • Endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR): The use of tools attached to the end of a thin tube, or endoscope, to cut away the abnormal tissue lining the esophagus.
  • Radiofrequency ablation: The use of radio waves that kill abnormal cells so that normal cells can grow back.
  • Surgery: Surgical procedures can remove abnormal tissues in cases where other, less invasive, options may not work.

Why choose Rush for Barrett’s esophagus care

  • Interventional gastroenterologists at Rush pioneered radiofrequency ablation for the treatment of Barrett's esophagus and were among the first in the Chicago area to use this therapy.

Departments and programs that treat this condition