The exact cause or causes of Barrett's esophagus are not known. However, there are factors that can increase the chances for developing it. The most common risk factor for Barrett's esophagus is GERD. GERD is a condition where the lining of the esophagus becomes damaged as a result of stomach acid "refluxing" back into the esophagus. Other risk factors include obesity, age, and gender.
The average age at diagnosis is 60, but it is usually difficult to determine when the problem started. It is about twice as common in men as in women, and much more common in white men than in men of other races. Barrett's esophagus is uncommon in children.
(Click Causes of Barrett's Esophagus for more detailed information.)
While Barrett's esophagus may cause no symptoms itself, a small number of people with this condition develop a relatively rare, but often deadly, type of esophageal cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma (see Chances of Cancer From Barrett's Esophagus).
Barrett's esophagus is diagnosed by upper endoscopy and biopsy.
There are several treatment options available for someone with Barrett's esophagus. Taking acid-blocking drugs for GERD may result in improvements in Barrett's esophagus. Removal of the esophagus is recommended only for people who have a high risk of developing cancer or who already have it.
It is also important that people who have Barrett's esophagus have periodic esophageal examinations with an upper endoscopy to look for pre-cancerous changes in the esophagus.
(Click Treatment for Barrett's Esophagus for more information.)