Healthwatch: Barrett's Esophagus

An acquired condition called Barrett's esophagus is caused by a change in the normal lining of the esophagus...most common in white males, especially those who smoke, are obese, in their fifties and older, and who may have suffered from heartburn for 10 to 20 years. Rush Hospital gastroenterologist Dr. Paul Varela said it's one factor that is causing an escalation in the number of cases of carcinoma of the esophagus.

"When we do patients for endoscopy with reflux disease about 1 out of 4 of those patients turn out to have Barrett's esophagus."

That's why Varela said it's so important to raise awareness about Barrett's esophagus. He says many people just treat the symptoms themselves, as ordinary heartburn.

"A lot of patients have had screening colonoscopies, who have no symptoms of heartburn whatsoever, but for some reason they also had an endoscopy done. Would you believe that 1 out of four of those patients have Barrett's esophagus?" said Varela.

Varela said a new tool, a camera pill the size of a large capsule, is making screening very easy so that anyone has the time to get it done, without the unpleasantness associated with a typical biopsy.

"So it goes down the entire length of the esophagus. It takes pictures of both sides, the upper part and the lower part. It constantly takes pictures as it goes down here. And it takes about 10 minutes to finish that. And this is recorded with another recording instrument. We download it. We look at it. And that afternoon we will have the report."

Varela said screening may be important even for those outside the high risk group.

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