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Barrett’s Oesophagus

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What is Barrett’s Oesophagus?

The oesophagus is the tube leading from our mouth to our stomach; when we swallow food, it goes through the oesophagus. Where the oesophagus meets the stomach, there is a muscular ring known as the lower oesophagus sphincter, which helps to prevent the stomach acid from flowing backwards into the oesophagus.

Due to certain medical conditions such as gastroephageal reflux disease or GERD, where the lower oesphageal is unable to close properly, the stomach acid will backflow into the oesophagus.

This long-term continuous exposure of the oesophagus to stomach acids will result in the cells of the oesophagus being damaged repeatedly until they eventually evolve and heal abnormally – this is known as Barrett oesophagus. 

Barrett’s oesophagus occurs when the cells that make up the oesophagus changes and takes on the appearance of cells that make up the intestines. This is extremely problematic because if it is left untreated, it may progress to cancer.

What are the common causes?

The main cause of Barrett’s oesophagus is still unclear and while some people who suffer from GERD do eventually end up with Barrett’s oesophagus, research shows that a significant number of people with Barrett’s oesophagus never had GERD in the first place.

What we do know is that the prolonged exposure of the oesophagus to stomach acids eventually result in the change in cells from normal skin cells to intestinal cells. This means that the appearance of the oesophagus changes from smooth, soft, and light pink to textured and inflamed red.

What are the common symptoms of Barrett’s Oesophagus in Singapore?

The symptoms of barrett's oesophagus are as follows:

  • Heartburn
  • Regurgitation
  • Bloody stools
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling of food stuck in your throat
  • Sore throat 
  • Coughing
  • Sour taste in your mouth
  • Bad breath

Is Barrett’s Oesophagus painful?

Barrett’s oesophagus is not painful but you may also suffer from heartburn, which can be painful. Heartburn can often be mistaken for a heart attack, so it is important to know the difference. A heart attack is usually accompanied by shooting pain in your left arm, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, sweating, etc.

Who is at risk of Barrett’s Oesophagus in Singapore?

The risk of Barrett’s oesophagus increases if you have the following risk factors:

  • Male
  • History of acid reflux problems
  • Obesity, especially if you carry the main bulk of your weight around your abdomen
  • Smoker
  • Family history of Barrett’s oesophagus or oesophageal cancer

How is Barrett’s Oesophagus diagnosed?

The only way that Barrett’s oesophagus can be diagnosed is through a gastroscopy.

  • A thin, long, and flexible tube (also known as a gastroscope) with a video camera and light attached to one end is used to view the insides of the upper digestive tract. 
  • The tube is inserted into the mouth and gently passed through the oesophagus, stomach, and the duodenum (upper small intestine). 
  • The light and video camera allows your doctor to observe and detect any problems with your upper digestive tract. 
  • Samples may also be taken for biopsy to enable a more accurate diagnosis.

What are the treatment options for Barrett’s Oesophagus in Singapore?

Barrett’s oesophagus is an irreversible condition; however, its progression can be stopped treating and controlling acid reflux. Treatment is a two-pronged approach which involves making positive changes to your lifestyle and medication.

Lifestyle changes that may help control acid reflux:

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks
  • Avoid smoking
  • Lose weight, being heavy especially around your abdomen can aggravate acid reflux
  • Avoid fatty, spicy food
  • Do not lie down after a heavy meal
  • Always take all your medication with water

Medication that may help control acid reflux:

  • Antacids: these can be purchased over-the-counter, and they help ease symptoms of gastric reflux
  • Proton inhibitor pumps (PIPs): these help to reduce the production stomach acid
  • H2 blockers: these help reduce the release of stomach acid
  • Prokinetics: helps your stomach empty itself faster so there is less food left behind and hence, less stomach acid.

Frequently asked questions

Is Barrett’s oesophagus curable?
No. Barrett’s oesophagus is an irreversible condition. If it is left untreated, it may progress to oesophageal cancer. However, the progression of Barrett’s oesophagus can be prevented by implementing some positive lifestyle changes and taking some medication.
How fast does it take for Barrett’s oesophagus to progress to cancer?
It progresses at a rate of 0.5-0.9% a year.

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    6A Napier Road, Annexe Block #05-35C Gleneagles Hospital
    Singapore 258500
    820 Thomson Road, #06-07 Mount Alvernia Medical Centre A Singapore 574623

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