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A to Z: Barrett’s Esophagus

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Barrett’s esophagus (ih-SAH-fuh-gus) happens when the tissue lining the esophagus is damaged by stomach acid. The lining of the esophagus is replaced by tissue that is similar to the lining of the intestines.

More to Know

The esophagus is a tube that carries food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach. It is separated from the stomach by a small muscle. This muscle opens and lets food and liquid enter the stomach and closes to prevent the food and liquid from leaking back into the esophagus.

Barrett’s esophagus is very rare in children. It is more likely to happen in children who have nerve or muscle problems.

Many people who develop Barrett’s esophagus have a history of reflux (when stomach acid flows back into the lower esophagus). Reflux may cause burning pain, chest pain, and trouble swallowing food. Doctors believe that sometimes reflux damages and changes the cells of the esophagus.

Untreated Barrett’s esophagus increases a person’s risk for cancer of the esophagus. Treating Barrett’s esophagus usually involves treating the acid reflux. In serious cases, doctors may need to do surgery.

Keep in Mind

The right treatment and some lifestyle changes — like keeping 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 medicines that can ease reflux symptoms. Rarely, in severe cases, doctors might recommend a surgery to remove the affected part of the esophagus.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.