Barrett's Esophagus Facts
Barrett’s esophagus is a condition affecting the lining of the esophagus, the swallowing tube that carries foods and liquids from the mouth to the stomach. Barrett's esophagus is caused by injury to the esophagus from the chronic backwash of stomach contents (like acid and enzymes) that occurs with acid reflux. There are no symptoms specific to Barrett’s esophagus, other than the typical symptoms of acid reflux (or GERD).
In some people, the damage and inflammation associated with acid reflux can cause genetic changes that cause the normal esophagus tissue to change into intestinal tissue (see image to right). When that happens, it is called Barrett’s esophagus (your doctor may refer to it as intestinal metaplasia). It is estimated that 13% of the people who have chronic acid reflux also have Barrett’s esophagus.4
- In a study published in 2005, Barrett's esophagus was estimated to affect approximately 3.3 million adults over 50 years of age in the United States.2,3
- People with Barrett's esophagus are 30 to125 times more likely to develop cancer of the esophagus than the general population.7
- The incidence of esophagus cancer has risen about six-fold in the U.S. since the 1970s. It is rising faster than breast cancer, prostate cancer, or melanoma.10, 16
- While the average age at diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus is 50, it is difficult to determine when the disease developed and thus, how long a patient has been affected.
- Men develop Barrett’s esophagus twice as often as women, and Caucasian men are affected more often than men of other races. Barrett’s esophagus is uncommon in children.
If you have frequent or long-standing acid reflux symptoms, you should consult a physician. Left untreated, acid reflux can lead to the development of pre-cancerous cells. In a small percentage of patients, that can result in a life-threatening cancer of the esophagus (esophageal adenocarcinoma or EAC).