Signs & Symptoms of Barrett's Disease

Barrett's disease affects the lining of the oesophagus. Referred to as Barrett's oesophagus, the disease has no obvious signs and symptoms. Barrett's disease generally results from continued acid reflux from the stomach. People suffering from gastro-oseophageal reflux disease (GERD) may develop Barrett's oesophagus.

Diagnosis is often made in people in their 50s; however, it can occur at any age. The disease is more common in men than women, and the development of Barrett's oesophagus is rare.


Barrett's disease is defined as a change of the lining of the oesophagus, and it is an uncommon condition. Referred to as Barrett's oesophagus, a diagnosis is made after a person undergoes endoscopic testing with biopsy. However, Barrett's disease is generally not the initial cause for testing. People who suffer with persistent heartburn and acid reflux often are tested to determine the extent of damage, if any, to the oesophagus. Persistent reflux is usually diagnosed as gastro-oseophageal reflux disease (GERD).


Barrett's oesophagus has no real signs or symptoms in and of itself according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). However, indicators of digestive problems are nausea, vomiting and heartburn. A physician will be able to determine the cause of digestive disturbances. GERD is often a cause of erosion to the oesophagus. Further, GERD can result in the development of abnormal cells in the oesophagus that lead to Barrett's disease. The abnormal cells present with Barrett's disease resemble those found in the intestines.


The abnormal cells of the lining in the oesophagus with Barrett's disease can lead to cancer. Esophageal cancer can spread to other organs throughout the body and the lymph nodes; however, the development of cancer is rare. According to the NDDIC, less than 1 per cent of the population develops esophageal cancer each year from Barrett's disease.


GERD is one of the main risk factors associated with Barrett's oesophagus. As a result, because there are little or no signs and symptoms associated with Barrett's disease, physicians recommend GERD sufferers undergo endoscopic testing beginning at age 40 years. The test is called an upper GI endoscopy. Before the test, the patient is sedated, and a flexible tube with a camera and light is passed into the oesophagus. Biopsies are taken from suspect cells at the same time the endoscope is inside the oesophagus. The results are read by a pathologist in order to conclude a Barrett's diagnosis.


Barrett's disease without cancer is a watch-and-see condition. Periodic endoscopic tests are recommended, along with acid-reflux medications, such as omeprazole, to control reflux. Barrett's disease with severe abnormalities or cancer may be offered two different treatments: photodynamic therapy (PDT) and endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR). According to the NDDIC, "PDT uses a light-sensitising agent called Photofrin and a laser to kill precancerous and cancerous cells." EMR is "lifting the Barrett's lining and injecting a solution under it or applying suction to it and then cutting it off."