Last week we broke down the differences between heartburn, acid reflux and GERD. In that piece, we explained how Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease is the most serious of the three, and that it can lead to a number of severe complications. Today, we’re going to talk about one of those complications and explain how an esophageal doctor treats the condition.
Causes and Symptoms of Barrett’s Esophagus
Barrett’s esophagus is a condition that results when GERD continues to damage a person’s throat over a long period of time. When stomach acid continually makes its way up into the esophageal canal, it will damage and irritate the esophagus, and if this happens enough the lining of the esophagus will begin to resemble the lining of the intestine. This can leave a person susceptible to adenocarcinoma, or cancer of the esophagus.
Barrett’s esophagus is caused by GERD, or regular acid reflux in the esophageal canal. Medical data suggests that roughly 10 percent of people with GERD will develop Barrett’s esophagus, but that likelihood increases if you don’t seek treatment for your chronic acid reflux.
Since Barrett’s esophagus is caused by chronic acid reflux, symptoms of the condition are the same as the underlying condition, which means a person may suffer:
- A sour taste in the back of your mouth
- A chronic cough
- Changes in voice
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact an esophageal surgeon right away.
Treating Barrett’s Esophagus
If your doctor believes you are suffering from GERD or Barrett’s esophagus, they’ll conduct an endoscopy and biopsy. This is performed by inserting a small tube with a tiny camera attached to it down your throat and into the esophageal canal. This will allow the doctor to view the lining of the lower esophagus, and if they suspect that Barrett’s esophagus has set in, they will collect a small tissue sample and examine it under a microscope to confirm their diagnosis.
Treating the condition is dependant on the extent of the damage that is revealed through the endoscopy and biopsy. For example, if cancer is detected, your surgeon will walk you through your surgical options. However, if there is no sign of cancer, treating the condition will involve controlling the chronic acid reflux and regular checkups to determine that the condition is not getting worse. Some of the more common treatment options for managing GERD include:
- Dietary improvements
- Weight loss
- Eating smaller portions
- Avoiding alcohol and tobacco
- Elevating your head when you sleep
Finally, there’s still a chance that you’ll need surgery for Barrett’s esophagus even if there are no signs of cancer. You may need to undergo surgery to remove part of the esophagus, or other treatment methods like radio wave ablation, photodynamic therapy or cryotherapy use radio waves, lasers and freezing techniques to rid the esophagus of abnormal cells.
For more information about your options, or to talk to a doctor about any symptoms you’ve been experiencing, click here to contact Dr. Koeplin’s office.