Barrett's esophagus (ih-SAH-fuh-gus) is an uncommon condition in which the tissue lining the esophagus is damaged by stomach acid and is replaced by tissue that is similar to the lining of the intestines.
The esophagus is a muscular tube that carries food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach. It is separated from the stomach by a muscle called a sphincter, which opens to allow food and drink to enter the stomach and then closes to prevent the food and drink from leaking back into the esophagus.
Barrett's esophagus is quite rare in children and is seen primarily in adults. Most people who develop Barrett's esophagus have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which causes stomach acid to flow back up into the lower esophagus. Doctors believe this damages the cells in the esophagus and causes them to change. It also can be seen in children with neuromuscular problems or structural abnormalities in their esophagus. In some cases, however, people can get Barrett's esophagus for no apparent reason.
Normally, the cells that line the esophagus are flat shaped (called squamous cells). With Barrett's esophagus, the cells are shaped like columns. This change in cells is a phase called metaplasia. If not treated, this phase may sometimes lead to cancer of the esophagus, although in most cases it doesn't.
Barrett's esophagus doesn't cause any symptoms on its own, but GERD may cause heartburn, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing food.
Treatment usually involves treating the acid reflux associated with GERD. In severe cases that seem likely to lead to cancer, surgery may be done to destroy the abnormal cells or remove part of the esophagus.
Barrett's esophagus is rare in children. Treatment won't reverse the condition; once the cells have changed, they can't change back. But proper treatment and certain lifestyle changes — such as maintaining a healthy weight; eating healthy foods; not smoking; and eating smaller, more frequent meals — can ease symptoms and keep Barrett's esophagus from getting worse. A doctor may prescribe medications that can limit GERD symptoms. Rarely, in severe cases doctors might recommend surgical removal of the affected portion of the esophagus.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
|Pediatric/Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER) PAGER is a nonprofit organization that provides information and support to parents, patients, and doctors about gastroesophageal reflux (GER).|
|National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases This group conducts and supports research on many serious diseases affecting public health.|
|National Institutes of Health (NIH) NIH is an Agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and offers health information and scientific resources.|
|Children's Digestive Health and Nutrition Foundation (CDHNF) The CDHNF website provides information on gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).|
|A to Z: Duodenitis Learn more about diseases and conditions of the stomach and digestive system.|
|A to Z: Gastritis Learn more about diseases and conditions of the stomach and digestive system.|
|A to Z: Esophagitis Learn about conditions that affect the esophagus and upper gastrointestinal tract.|
|Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) Gastroesophageal reflux disease doesn't just affect old people who eat too much while watching TV. Active, healthy teens can have GERD too.|
|Have You Heard of GERD? Be on guard for GERD! Find out about this digestive problem that causes heartburn and other problems in many people.|
|Gastroesophageal Reflux When symptoms of heartburn or acid indigestion are frequent or can't be attributed to spicy ingredients, it could be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). And it can be a problem for kids - even newborns.|
|Digestive System Most people think digestion begins when you first put food in your mouth. But the digestive process actually starts even before the food hits your taste buds.|
|Your Digestive System The digestive system breaks down the food you eat. Learn how in this article for kids.|
|Digestive System The digestive process starts even before the first bite of food. Find out more about the digestive system and how our bodies break down and absorb the food we eat.|
|Pyloric Stenosis Pyloric stenosis is a condition that can cause your baby to vomit forcefully and often and may cause other problems such as dehydration and salt and fluid imbalances.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.