Barretts Disease

Barretts Disease if left untreated can develop into cancer so it’s worth learning about.


This disorder affects the digestive tract of a person, specifically the esophagus. Barretts Disease refers to an anomalous change of the cells in the inner lining of the inferior part on the esophagus.

The esophagus is just a part of the body’s digestive system. It is a muscular cylinder that unites the stomach and the pharynx or the throat (See: Throat cancer symptoms). This damp pink tissue measures about 8 inches long and is lined by the mucosa. The esophagus also has two sphincters: the upper and lower esophageal sphincters. The main function of this structure is to deliver liquids and food to the stomach (See: Stomach cancer symptoms). Peristalsis, the process that moves the food through the digestive tract, makes this mechanism possible Swallowing makes the esophagus relax and to permit the substances to pass the esophagus. The sphincters then close rapidly to prevent the reflux of substances from the stomach.

What is Barretts Disease?

The normal cells of the esophagus are squamous epithelium cells, but with Barretts Disease, the cells are made of metaplastic columnar epithelium cells. This columnar epithelium cells aren’t normally found in the esophagus because these are the cells that make up the lower gastrointestinal tract. The association of its metaplastic characteristics closely links to adenocarcinoma cells of the esophagus. The main reason of its existence is due to the long term adaptation to acid exposure from chronic conditions like gastro esophageal reflux disorder (GERD).

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Barrett’s Esophagus?

It doesn’t have any distinctive signs and symptoms because it is a complication of GERD and is highly associated with its signs and symptoms such as heartburn, nausea, regurgitation, blood in the stool or melena, dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing) and frequent belching. In rare instances, the reflux can reach the lungs passing through the larynx or the voice box which causes laryngitis. During this point, other symptoms may appear such as asthma, chronic cough, bronchitis, hoarseness of voice, and sore throat (See: Sore Throat Remedies).

What is GERD?

GERD, also known as Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease, literally means the reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus. It is a condition where the liquid substance of the stomach content regurgitates or backs up to the esophagus elapsing on the cardiac sphincter of the stomach. The liquid is made of hydrochloric acid and pepsin.

Hydrochloric acid is a strong acid that can even disband metals for a certain period of time.  It is produced by the parietal cells of the body. It is responsible for killing bacteria in the stomach and helps with the vulnerability of proteins to pepsin. Pepsin works as enzymes that can breakdown proteins to their simpler form which our body can absorb and use. The properties of these two substances make them very corrosive to other parts of the body. In some people, bile is also regurgitated along with can these two substances. This is due to the regurgitation of the bile substance from the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine, to the stomach passing the pyloric sphincter.

GERD is usually a life long disease – the injuries may be treated but it typically recurs after several months and the damage will come about from time to time. This condition can result to long term inflammation of the esophagus or esophagitis which later on can progress to Barretts Disease.

How is Barretts Disease Diagnosed?

Barretts Disease is diagnosed by two procedures such as endoscopy and biopsy. Endoscopy procedure uses an instrument called an endoscope to diagnose as well as treat conditions of the upper gastrointestinal tract. The kind of endoscopy exculisvely used for this disease is the esophagogastroduodenoscopy or EGD. Itt involves the esophagus, stomach and duodenum and it also enables the physician to visualize the lining of the esophagus. It will show a pinkish lining instead of the normal white lining of the esophagus from the gastro esophageal connection to the esophagus and extends up to 2.5 inches.

Biopsy is a procedure where a small sample of the target tissue is removed from the body for further analysis of the disease using microscopes and other equipments. This is a requirement for the early diagnosis of malignancies since this disease is strongly associated with esophageal cancer.

What are Treatments for Barrett’s Esophagus?

The treatment for Barrett’s Esophagus includes ablation therapy; a very good example is photodynamic therapy. Ablation Therapy is the removal of abnormal tissues that cause the disease it uses radiofrequencies or surgery to perform it.

Photodynamic Therapy is widely used on treating Barretts Disease. This is the intravenous introduction of sodium porfimer, a photosensitizing agent that the dysplastic cells of Barrett’s Esophagus take up. After 2 days, the photosensitized tissues will be burned using the laser. The target tissues in this treatment are only the abnormal cells because the normal cell didn’t take up the photosensitizing agent. The main side effect of this procedure is that some of the sodium porfimer extends to the skin which makes it sensitive to sunlight. Sunburn can occur even if the exposure to sunlight is minimal so the patient is recommended to avoid sunlight exposure for 6 weeks.

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