Signs You Might Have Barrett's Esophagus

Jun 17, 2024
Signs You Might Have Barrett's Esophagus
Barrett’s esophagus isn’t a cancerous condition, but it can increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer. That’s why it’s important to identify the signs of Barrett’s esophagus as soon as they appear so you can get the treatment you need.

Barrett's esophagus is a condition where the tissue lining your esophagus changes in an unhealthy way. It becomes thick and red and resembles the tissue that lines your intestines. 

While it doesn't usually cause symptoms itself, it's a risk factor for developing a specific type of esophageal cancer: esophageal adenocarcinoma. The changes in your esophagus are low-grade or high-grade dysplasia (precancerous changes) or carcinoma (cancerous changes).

Barrett's esophagus doesn't typically cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages. However, early detection through screening and diagnostic tests can help you address the condition before it spirals into a big issue.

So, how do you know if you have the condition? We diagnose it through an endoscopy and biopsy, but there are warning signs that you might have it.

Take a moment to learn how to recognize the signs of Barrett's esophagus and how  Jigneshkumar B. Patel, MD, Kelle C. Degroat, APRN, and  Wendi Dinh-Bailey, APRN at Bay Area Gastroenterology Associates, LLC, can help you manage the condition.

You have chronic heartburn 

Persistent heartburn or acid reflux can increase your risk of developing Barrett's esophagus. The frequent exposure to stomach acid damages the lining of your esophagus. Your risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus is higher if you have chronic gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) as opposed to only occasional heartburn. 

If you have GERD, take your medications as directed and avoid your trigger foods — such as spicy foods, fried foods, or alcohol —  to help reduce the frequency of acid reflux. When you manage GERD, you reduce the stomach acid that flows back up and irritates your esophageal tissue.

You have dysphagia

Barrett's esophagus can narrow your esophagus due to scar tissue formation or strictures. As scar tissue builds up, it can result in difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) or the sensation of food getting stuck in your throat.

You always have a cough

Persistent coughing (when you’re not sick) that doesn't improve with time or treatment may indicate Barrett's esophagus. Stomach acid that backs up into your esophagus can irritate your throat and vocal cords, leading to chronic coughing or changes in how your voice sounds. You might notice that your voice sounds hoarse more often than not.

You have chest pain

While less common, some people with Barrett's esophagus may experience chest pain — similar to the chest pain related to heartburn but more intense or prolonged. 

Never brush off chest pain: You may mistake this chest pain for symptoms of a heart attack, so it's essential to seek medical evaluation for a proper diagnosis.

You have GI bleeding

In some cases, Barrett's esophagus can lead to ulcers, which may then lead to gastrointestinal bleeding. GI bleeding can appear as blood in your vomit (hematemesis) or black, tarry stools (melena). 

You can’t diagnose this yourself and should always take it seriously. There are many treatable causes for GI bleeding, but they should be evaluated promptly.

What if you have a family history of Barrett’s esophagus?

Just because you have a family history of Barrett's esophagus, esophageal cancer, or other gastrointestinal conditions, doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to develop the condition. You may be at increased risk of developing one of these conditions yourself. 

Knowing you have a family history can help our team recommend the correct screenings, so be sure to share a personal and family health history. 

What to do if you spot these signs

If you’re concerned about Barrett’s esophagus — or any other GI condition —  we encourage you to visit our Trinity, Florida, location to confirm the source of your issues. Our board-certified gastroenterology expert team can confirm whether or not you have Barrett’s esophagus through an upper endoscopy. 

During this outpatient procedure, our team examines your esophageal lining with a lighted camera. Your Bay Area Gastroenterology Associates provider can also conduct a biopsy during your endoscopy. 

Your biopsy results reveal if your esophagus has any precancerous cells, low-grade dysplasia, or high-grade dysplasia and help shape your treatment plan. 

You don’t need to wait for any symptoms to worsen before you reach out for help. Call our Trinity, Florida, office to schedule your appointment, or click here to contact us.