Barrett's esophagus may present with very few or even no symptoms. Some of the risk factors that are associated with Barrett's esophagus, however, may provide clues to the cause and symptoms of this condition.
Risk factors and features associated with Barrett's esophagus
Gastroesophageal reflux disease: Barrett's esophagus is most commonly found in people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition that occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter opens at inappropriate times or does not close properly.
Although people who do not have GERD can develop Barrett's esophagus, the condition is about three to five times more common in people who also have GERD. Among individuals with Barrett's esophagus, GERD may well have been present for a decade or more.
Age: Barrett's esophagus is often diagnosed in middle-aged and older adults with an average age-at-diagnosis of 50 to 55 years. The condition is rarely found in children.
Gender: Men are twice as likely as women to develop Barrett's esophagus.
Lifestyle: Smokers are more frequently diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus than nonsmokers.
Symptoms common to both Barrett's esophagus and GERD
Symptoms that are associated with both Barrett's esophagus and GERD include:
Heartburn: Heartburn is a feeling of discomfort or a burning sensation that occurs beneath the breast bone and is caused due to irritation of the inner lining of the esophagus by a backflow of acid from the stomach. The pain worsens after eating or when bending over or lying down. The pain may resemble the pain felt during a heart attack or as a result of angina.
Regurgitation of reflux: Acid from the stomach may sometimes be regurgitated into the back of the mouth, causing a sour or bitter taste in the mouth or throat. Some patients may experience nausea or even vomit. Regurgitation of reflux may also lead to a persistent dry cough and if acid seeps into the airways, it may trigger asthma symptoms, pneumonia, lung abscesses, or pulmonary fibrosis.
Regurgitation of reflux may manifest in the following ways:
There may be repeated burping
Some patients experience water brash or excessive salivation
Seepage of the acid into the wind pipe may lead to inflammation of the larynx or voice box, leading to laryngitis and a hoarse and raspy voice
Persistent acid in the mouth may lead to decaying and erosion of the teeth's enamel and therefore tooth decay
There may be pain over the abdomen and bloating in some individuals
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc