About 20 percent of Americans suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which causes stomach acid to leak up, or reflux, into the esophagus. While GERD is most commonly associated with heartburn—a burning sensation in the chest or throat—it can also quietly lead to a potentially dangerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus.
Barrett’s esophagus is a change in the lining of the esophagus caused by long-term exposure to stomach acid. Normal esophageal cells change into tissue that’s similar to the tissue lining the intestinal tract. In some people, this can cause a precancerous condition in the esophageal tissue called dysplasia. Dysplasia puts you at high risk for developing esophageal cancer.
To help prevent cancer in patients with Barrett’s esophagus, CentraState Medical Center now offers an advanced, non-surgical procedure called Barrx™ radiofrequency ablation. Radiofrequency ablation uses heat energy to destroy (ablate) diseased Barrett’s tissue in the superficial lining of the esophagus. The treatment has been shown to be more than 90 percent effective in removing precancerous tissue from the esophagus.
Radiofrequency ablation is an outpatient procedure done under sedation. A thin, flexible tube called an endoscope is inserted into the esophagus, allowing your doctor to view and measure the abnormal tissue. The Barrx ablation device is then inserted to precisely deliver heat energy to only the diseased tissue. The tissue is destroyed and healthy tissue eventually grows back as it heals.
The procedure takes approximately 20 minutes, and you will go home the same day. Barrx therapy is repeated every three months until the lining of the esophagus returns to normal. Most patients require three or four treatments. Additional follow-up endoscopies monitor whether any Barrett’s tissue has returned.
Depending on the amount of Barrett’s tissue ablated, some patients may experience discomfort for a few days. However, most patients are back to work and other normal activities the day after their procedure.
Fortunately, Barrett’s esophagus only occurs in a small percentage of patients with GERD. Before it progresses to Barrett’s, GERD can often be treated with medications that reduce the amount of acid the stomach produces. Losing weight and making lifestyle changes such as eating smaller meals and reducing alcohol and caffeine consumption can also help reduce the frequency of heartburn and other GERD symptoms.
If you experience any of the following GERD symptoms on a regular basis, talk to a doctor about possible treatment options:
- A burning sensation in the chest or throat, sometimes with a sour taste in your mouth
- Trouble swallowing or a chronic sore throat
- A feeling of a lump in your throat
- Dry cough
Not everyone with GERD has symptoms. For certain patients, including those with a family history of esophageal cancer, an endoscopy to screen for Barrett’s esophagus may be recommended, whether or not you have GERD symptoms.
The average age of diagnosis for Barrett’s esophagus is 50, and it is more commonly seen in men, particularly Caucasian men.
If you are concerned about GERD or Barrett’s esophagus, your doctor can help you decide whether screening is appropriate.