Barrett’s esophagus refers to a condition in which the cells in the lower esophagus get damaged due to recurrent exposure of these cells to stomach acids. This causes the cells of the esophagus to change composition and color in the esophagus.
Barrett’s esophagus is usually diagnosed in individuals with long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. GERD refers to the regurgitation of the stomach acids in the lower esophagus. However, only a few people will GERD will suffer from Barrett’s esophagus.
If a person is diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, then it is a cause of alarm because he or she may be at risk of suffering from esophageal cancer. Even though the risk is small, diagnosis may involve periodic exams to lookout for precancerous cells in the esophagus.
Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus may be linked to acid reflux:
- Recurring heartburn
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chest pain
- Dry cough
- Upper abdominal pain
There are many people with Barrett’s esophagus who do not experience any signs and symptoms of the condition at all.
When to seek medical help
People with long-term problems related to heartburn or acid reflux should consult their doctor to find out if they are at risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus.
Seek medical help if:
- You have chest pain
- You are experiencing difficulty in swallowing food or water
- You are vomiting blood or blood clots that may look like ground coffee beans
- Your stools are tarry, black or bloody
Along with medical treatment prescribed by your doctor, you must also consider some self-care measures in order to treat symptoms and other related problems such as heartburn and acid reflux.
- Lose weight if you are overweight. If you are healthy weighted, make sure you maintain this weight. People who are obese or overweight should ask their doctors about a healthy way to lose weight. Usually excess weight may apply excessive pressure eon the abdomen causing the stomach acids to get pushed upwards to your esophagus.
- Eat smaller frequent meals. Instead of having three large meals a day, have frequent smaller meals in order to prevent over-consumption of food.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes. Tight clothes may put pressure on your abdomen thus exacerbating symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux.
- Avoid heartburn triggers. Everyone has his own triggers. Usually heartburn triggers include fatty food such as fried foods and fast food, alcohol, peppermint, chocolate, onion, garlic, nicotine and caffeine. Avoiding such triggers may improve heartburn.
- Avoid prolonged bending. Bending over to tie your shoes is fine, but prolonged and frequent bending which may be related to your household chores or any other work may aggravate symptoms, especially after eating.
- Avoid lying down after eating. You must wait at least 3 hours before you lie down.
- Keep your head elevated when you’re in bed. Rise to at least 6-8 inches above your trunk using wooden blocks under your head. Pillows are not considered as good alternatives, however.
Stop smoking. Smoking increases stomach acids; therefore, if you are a smoker your doctor will most likely recommend ways to quit smoking.