If your chronic acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease goes untreated for long enough, there’s a decent chance that it will develop into a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus. Named for the British thoracic surgeon who first discovered the condition, Barrett’s esophagus develops in about 10-20 percent of individuals suffering from reflux disorders.
When Barrett’s esophagus sets in, the lining of your esophagus changes from a healthy white lining to a pink/red lining. When this happens, the tissue is more prone to cellular changes, which increases your risk of a cancer known as esophageal adenocarcinoma. So how is Barrett’s esophagus managed and treated? We have a lot of experience with this condition, so we explain how it’s cared for in this blog.
Treatment #1 – Oral Medications
This treatment option isn’t for someone who has been diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus as much as it is for a person with dysplasia. Dysplasia is a precursor to Barrett’s esophagus, and is categorized by the development of precancerous cells in the esophageal lining. Dysplasia can come in low, mid or high grades, but it is usually treated with more intense methods like medications instead of certain lifestyle modifications you might try if you are dealing with a problem like acid reflux (diet changes, portion control). Acid-suppressing medications called proton pump inhibitors can help prevent further damage, and in certain cases, heal existing damage.
Treatment #2 – Endoscopic Ablative Therapies
The next treatment option is known as endoscopic ablation therapy, and it involves destroying the dysplasia in your esophagus. This is usually done using one of two different techniques.
- Photodynamic Therapy – This process uses a light-activated chemical known as porfimer, an endoscope and a laser to kill precancerous cells in your esophagus.
- Radiofrequency Ablation – Radiofrequency ablation works by using radio waves to kill precancerous and cancerous cells in the esophageal tissue. Complications typically occur slightly less frequently in this type of endoscopic therapy.
Treatment #3 – Endoscopic Mucosal Resection
In certain cases of Barrett’s esophagus, an endoscopic mucosal resection may help to provide relief. This surgical option involves a surgeon cutting away the Barrett’s tissue while leaving as much healthy or non-cancerous tissue as possible. If a doctor can’t safely remove all the Barrett’s tissue, or certain tissue is still considered at risk for problems, this treatment option may be combined with an ablative therapy.
Treatment #4 – Esophagectomy
This is the most invasive treatment option, and it also carries more potential complications than endoscopic treatments. An esophagectomy involves the surgical removal of the affected sections of your esophagus. The surgeon then rebuilds the esophagus using parts of your stomach or large intestine. Patients typically have to stay in the surgical center for one to two weeks while they recover from the invasive procedure. This type of surgery is not available for individuals with certain medical conditions or individuals whose esophageal damage is too extreme, which is why it’s so important to have an endocrine specialist examine your throat if you notice voice changes or are dealing with chronic acid reflux.