What is Barrett’s oesophagus? Symptoms and treatments

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Elderly woman at home with heart pain holding her chest

The specialists of the General Surgery and Digestive System service  of Quirónsalud Torrevieja answer the most frequently asked questions about Barrett’s oesophagus (BE).

What is Barrett’s oesophagus?

Barrett’s oesophagus is a condition in which the lining of the distal oesophagus, next to the entrance to the stomach, is damaged by acid reflux, causing this lining to be replaced by a different one and causing Barrett’s oesophagus.

Risk actors for Barrett’s oesophagus:

  • Family history.
  • Being a man.
  • Being white.
  • Age.  It can occur at any age but is most common in adults over age 50.
  • Smoking or having smoked.
  • Overweight.

What symptoms are most common?

Patients with Barrett’s oesophagus have the same symptoms as those with gastroesophageal reflux disease: heartburn and regurgitation.

In addition, symptoms such as difficulty swallowing food and chest pains also appear, although to a lesser extent.

For some people, this gastroesophageal reflux disease can trigger a change in the cells lining the lower oesophagus and cause Barrett’s oesophagus.

Most people with a diagnosis of Barrett’s oesophagus report few or no symptoms.

What are the dangers of this disorder?

Barrett’s oesophagus is linked to an increased risk of developing oesophageal cancer.

Although the risk of oesophageal cancer is low, it is important to have regular endoscopic check-ups and biopsies of the oesophagus to check for precancerous cells (dysplasia).”  Explain the specialists of Quirónsalud Torrevieja.

What tests are performed for its diagnosis?

The test performed is upper endoscopy.

What treatments are there?

Treatment depends on the degree of cellular alteration of the oesophageal epithelium and the patient’s condition.

Periodic endoscopy, to monitor the state of the epithelium of Barrett’s oesophagus by means of biopsies, should be performed periodically every 1-2 years, depending on the type of cellular alteration.

In addition, gastroesophageal reflux should be treated with medications and lifestyle change.

When to operate?

Antisecretory medication, such as omeprazole, reduces the risk of development and progression of Barrett’s oesophagus, but they are not effective in facilitating complete prevention, since they do not completely prevent the passage of stomach acid into the oesophagus, which continues to injure the oesophageal mucosa.

Therefore, anti-reflux surgery is considered superior to antisecretory medication in controlling Barrett’s oesophagus, and should be offered to patients as the best therapeutic option, reporting benefits as well as possible side effects.

What is the success rate of this surgery?

The success rate of anti-reflux surgery is over 90% at 5 years,” say the specialists.

Recommendations to avoid reflux

  • A healthy diet, we eliminate spicy products, citrus fruits, tobacco, alcohol, coffee …
  • Do not make copious meals.
  • Do not go to bed until 2 or 3 hours after eating.
  • Sleep with your head held high to prevent reflux from rising.
  • Sleep on the left so that our stomach does not turn towards the oesophagus.
  • Lead a stress-free life.
  • Treat constipation.
  • Do not wear very tight garments.
  • Avoid taking drugs that reduce the tone of the lower oesophageal sphincter.

What is Barrett’s oesophagus surgery?

The surgery is performed laparoscopically and consists of making a valve with the patient’s own stomach, like a tie, that surrounds the oesophagus.

This valve prevents the acidic contents of the stomach from rising into the oesophagus and damaging the mucosa.

How is the postoperative period?

It is an operation that in expert hands has practically no complications and 24-48 hours the patient is discharged to his home, being able to lead a normal life 7-10 days after surgery” explains the specialists of Quirónsalud.

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