Barrett Esophagus

Barrett Esophagus

National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.

Important

It is possible that the main title of the report Barrett Esophagus is not the name you expected. Please check the synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and disorder subdivision(s) covered by this report.

Synonyms

  • BE
  • Barrett metaplasia
  • Barrett ulcer
  • columnar-lined esophagus

Disorder Subdivisions

  • None

General Discussion

Barrett esophagus is a condition in which the cells that make up of the tissue of the lower end of the esophagus are abnormal. The esophagus is the thin tube that connects the back of the throat to the stomach. Chronic inflammation and ulceration of the lower end of the esophagus eventually causes the cells normally found there to be replaced by cells normally found in the intestines (intestinal metaplasia). Since most patients with Barrett esophagus have acid reflux disease, they suffer from heartburn and/or acid regurgitation; Barrett esophagus does not cause any specific symptoms. The disorder is considered a premalignant condition and affected individuals are at an increased risk (although their overall risk remains low), of developing cancer (adenocarcinoma), of the esophagus. Barrett esophagus usually occurs more often in individuals with gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), a condition characterized by backflow (regurgitation), of the contents of stomach into the esophagus. The exact reason these tissue changes occur in Barrett esophagus is unknown.

Symptoms

Barrett esophagus, per se, does not cause any specific symptoms on its own. Since most affected individuals have GERD, they may have symptoms normally associated with that condition including backflow of food and acid from the stomach into the esophagus (reflux), hoarseness, heartburn, a sore throat, a dry cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, loss of appetite and unintended weight loss. Rarely, some individuals may vomit up small amounts of blood.



Some individuals with Barrett esophagus may develop difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), which may indicate narrowing of the esophagus (peptic stricture) or the development of cancer in the esophagus. Individuals with Barrett esophagus are at a greater risk than the general population for developing a form of cancer known as adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. However, the overall risk is still very low, less than 0.5 percent of individuals with Barrett esophagus develop cancer of esophagus on a yearly basis.

Causes

The exact cause of Barrett esophagus is unknown. Most cases appear to occur randomly for no apparent reason (sporadically). Barrett esophagus occurs with greater frequency in individuals with GERD.



Researchers speculate that the tissue changes that characterize Barrett esophagus are caused by chronic damage to the esophagus as is seen in individuals with chronic GERD. In individuals with GERD, backflow of the contents of the stomach including stomach acids and bile salts repeatedly damage the tissue of the lower esophagus. Over time, the tissue normally found lining the lower esophagus (squamous epithelium) is replaced by tissue normally found in the stomach (intestinal columnar epithelium), a process known as specialized intestinal metaplasia. Some researches suggest that this may occur because the intestinal tissue is more resistant to damage from stomach acids.



Some cases of Barrett esophagus have run in families suggesting that some individuals have a genetic predisposition to developing the disorder. A genetic predisposition means a person carries a gene (or genes) for the disease, but it may not be expressed unless it is triggered or "activated" under certain circumstances, such as due to particular environmental factors.



It is likely that several different factors, including environmental and genetic factors as well as lifestyle choices, cause the distinctive tissue changes that characterized Barrett esophagus. Such factors may also be why individuals with Barrett esophagus are more likely than individuals in the general population to develop adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.



Certain risk factors have been indentified for developing Barrett esophagus including individuals who are of advancing age (60 or older), white, male, and obese. Smoking may also increase the risk of developing Barrett esophagus.

Affected Populations

Barrett esophagus affects men approximately twice as often as it does women. The disorder can affect individuals of any age, but is much more likely in older individuals. The average age at diagnosis is 60. It occurs in greater frequency in Caucasians. The exact prevalence of Barrett esophagus is not known because many people may have the disorder, but do not develop symptoms and remain undiagnosed. One estimate placed the prevalence of Barrett esophagus as high as approximately 700,000 to 1 million adults in the United States.

Standard Therapies

Diagnosis

A diagnosis of Barrett esophagus is made by examination of the esophagus through a device known as an endoscope, a thin flexible tube that has a small camera with a light on its tip. The tube is run down the throat allowing a physician to view the tissue of the lower esophagus and the junction where the esophagus meets the stomach. Healthy tissue in this area is usually a pearly white color; the tissue that characterizes Barrett esophagus is a darker pink color often described as "salmon-colored". A diagnosis of Barrett esophagus may be confirmed by the microscopic examination of tissue samples (biopsy) taken from this discolored tissue lining the esophagus. Under a microscope, the cells have an abnormal "column" shape that is characteristic for this disease.



Since Barrett esophagus is associated with an increased risk of cancer of the esophagus, affected individuals should be evaluated periodically by a physician who specializes in treating diseases of the intestines (gastroenterologist). Examination of the esophagus every 2-3 years with a specialized endoscope is recommended to detect early pre-malignant cell changes (dysplasia). Cell dysplasia means that the cells show similarities with cancer cells, but cannot invade tissue or spread. The tissue changes at this stage can still be treated. Dysplasia may be classified as low-grade to high-grade. High-grade dysplasia indicates a greater risk of progression to esophageal cancer.



There are no consensus accepted screening guidelines for individuals suspected of having Barrett esophagus. Some guidelines suggest that individuals more than 50 who have had chronic GERD symptoms for several years, and other risk factors such as obesity undergo an endoscopy exam to determine whether they have Barrett esophagus.



Treatment

The treatment of Barrett esophagus is often directed at the symptoms associated with GERD and may include the elevation of the head of the bed and the avoidance of bedtime snacks or liquids. Drug therapy may include the administration of medications that help to relieve the symptoms of GERD and acid reflux. These may include proton pump inhibitors including esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec), and omeprazole powder (Zegerid). Additional drugs that may be prescribed include metoclopramide (Reglan), famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet), and ranitidine (Zantac).



Individuals with Barrett esophagus are urged not to smoke or drink alcoholic beverages. Some people with Barrett esophagus who do not respond to drug therapy may require surgery to heal areas of ulceration on the esophagus and prevent acid reflux. The procedure, known as laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication, tightens the muscle (sphincter) that connects the esophagus and the stomach preventing the backflow of contents from the stomach into the esophagus.



For some individuals with high-grade dysplasia, the surgical removal of the esophagus may be recommended. However recent advances in endoscopic therapy including endoscopic mucosal resection and ablation (PDT, radiofrequency ablation) have them the initial choice of therapy in patients with high grade dysplasia.



In August of 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved porfimer sodium (Photofrin) as an alternative to surgery for individuals with high-grade dysplasia associated with Barrett esophagus. This photosensitizing agent kills abnormal and potentially precancerous cells. Photofrin is manufactured by Axcan Pharma, Inc. For information, contact:



Axcan Pharma, Inc.

22 Inverness Center Parkway

Birmingham, AL 35242

Tel: (205) 991-8085

Fax: (205) 991-8176

Investigational Therapies

Information on current clinical trials is posted on the Internet at www.clinicaltrials.gov. All studies receiving U.S. government funding, and some supported by private industry, are posted on this government web site.



For information about clinical trials being conducted at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, contact the NIH Patient Recruitment Office:



Toll-free: (800) 411-1222

TTY: (866) 411-1010

Email: prpl@cc.nih.gov



For information about clinical trials sponsored by private sources contact:

www.centerwatch.com



Additional therapies that are being studied for individuals with high-grade dysplasia associated with Barrett esophagus including radiofrequency ablation, cryotherapy and laser therapy. Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure in which radiofrequency energy is used to destroy the affected tissue. Cryotherapy is a procedure in which extreme cold is used to freeze and destroy affected tissue. Laser therapy uses lasers to destroy the affected tissue. More research is necessary to determine the long-term safety and effectiveness of these procedures for the treatment of individuals with Barrett esophagus.



A procedure known as endoscopic mucosal resection is being studied for the treatment of high-grade dysplasia associated with Barrett esophagus. During this procedure, the affected tissue is removed through the endoscope without damaging the underlying tissue of the esophagus. More research is necessary to determine the long-term safety and effectiveness of this potential therapy for individuals with Barrett esophagus.



Contact for additional information about Barrett esophagus:



Prateek Sharma, MD

Professor of Medicine

Director: GI Fellowship Training

Veterans Medical Center

University of Kansas School of Medicine

Kansas City, KS 66160

References

TEXTBOOKS

Higgins P, Askari FK. Barrett Esophagus. NORD Guide to Rare Disorders. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Philadelphia, PA. 2003:333.



Yamada T, Alpers DH, Kaplowitz N, Laine L, et al. Eds. Textbook for Gastroenterology. 4th ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Philadelphia, PA; 2003:.



Ballenger JJ., ed. Diseases of the Nose, Throat, Ear, Head & Neck, 14th ed. New York, NY: Lea & Febiger Co; 1991:1315-6.



JOURNAL ARTICLES

Sharma P. N Barrett's esophagus. NEJM 2009; 361(26):2548-56. Erratum in:NEJM 2010; 362(15):1450.



Seewald S, Angl TL, Soehendra N. Endoscopic mucosal resection of Barrett's oesophagus containing dysplasia or intramucosal cancer. Postgrad Med J. 2007;83:367-372.



Shalauta MD, Saad R. Barrett's esophagus. Am Fam Phys. 2004;69:2113-2118



Drovdlic CM, Goddard KAB, Chak A, et al. Demographic and phenotypic features of 70 families segregating Barrett's oesophagus and oesophageal adenocarcinoma. J Med Genet. 2003;40:651-656.



Shaheen N, Ransohoff EF. Gastroesophageal reflux, barrett esophagus, and esophageal cancer: scientific review. JAMA. 2002;287:1972-1981.



Spechler S J. Barrett's Esophagus. NEJM 2002;346:836-842.



FROM THE INTERNET

Azodo IA, Romero Y. Barrett's Esophagus. The American College of Gastroenterology.. Available at: http://www.gi.org/patients/gihealth/barretts.asp Accessed: 12/11.

Johnston MH, Eastone JA. Barrett esophagus and Barrett Ulcer. Emedicine Journal,April 25, 2011. Available at: http://www.emedicine.com/med/TOPIC210.HTM Accessed:12/11.



National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Barrett's Esophagus.July, 2008. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/barretts/ Accessed:12/11.



Mayo Clinic for Medical Education and Research. Barrett's Esophagus.May 25, 2011. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/barretts-esophagus/HQ00312 Accessed:12/11.

Resources

Digestive Disease National Coalition

507 Capitol Court, NE

Suite 200

Washington, DC 20002

Tel: (202)544-7497

Fax: (202)546-7105

Email: ddnc@hmcw.org

Internet: http://www.ddnc.org



NIH/National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive & Kidney Diseases

Office of Communications & Public Liaison

Bldg 31, Rm 9A06

31 Center Drive, MSC 2560

Bethesda, MD 20892-2560

Tel: (301)496-3583

Email: NDDIC@info.niddk.nih.gov

Internet: http://www2.niddk.nih.gov/



International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders

700 W. Virginia St., 201

Milwaukee, WI 53217

USA

Tel: (414)964-1799

Fax: (414)964-7176

Tel: (888)964-2001

Email: iffgd@iffgd.org

Internet: http://www.iffgd.org



Genetic and Rare Diseases (GARD) Information Center

PO Box 8126

Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8126

Tel: (301)251-4925

Fax: (301)251-4911

Tel: (888)205-2311

TDD: (888)205-3223

Internet: http://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/GARD/



Esophageal Cancer Awareness Association, Inc.

P.O. Box 55071 #15530

Boston, MA 02205-5071

Tel: (607)257-1141

Fax: (607)255-0349

Tel: (800)601-0613

Email: aschoener@ecaware.org

Internet: http://www.ecaware.org/



For a Complete Report

This is an abstract of a report from the National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.® (NORD). Cigna members can access the complete report by logging into myCigna.com. For non-Cigna members, a copy of the complete report can be obtained for a small fee by visiting the NORD website. The complete report contains additional information including symptoms, causes, affected population, related disorders, standard and investigational treatments (if available), and references from medical literature. For a full-text version of this topic, see http://www.rarediseases.org/search/rdblist.html.

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