Barrett’s Syndrome 101

A large number of diseases are associated with several symptoms, which are summarized under the term syndrome. One of these health problems is the so-called Barrett’s syndrome or Barrett’s esophagus.

What is Barrett’s Syndrome?

The human digestive system is a complicated system, some of which consists of extremely sensitive types of tissue. Inflammatory processes that take place in the esophagus are therefore not uncommon, as in Barrett’s syndrome.

Barrett’s syndrome is a health abnormality that occurs as a consequence of so-called reflux disease and is treated as one of the typical complications. Not only women, but also men suffer from Barrett’s syndrome, which is usually chronic and can therefore recur constantly.

The scientific name for Barrett’s Syndrome was chosen after the doctor Norman Rupert Barrett.


Barrett’s syndrome can develop when there is reflux disease that damages tissue areas in the upper esophagus.

The actual cause of Barrett’s syndrome is the influence of stomach acid, which flows back from the stomach into the esophagus. In reflux disease or reflux esophagitis, the healthy DNA of the mucous membrane cells is so impaired that ulcers form, which often take a cancer-like course.

Other causes underlying Barrett’s syndrome include asthmatic diseases, pregnancy, mental illnesses, various negative stressors and individual metabolic diseases such as diabetes mellitus. There are also some drugs that promote Barrett’s syndrome.

Organically caused constrictions at the gastric outlet also contribute to the disease. It is still up to medical research to clarify which differentiated causes are involved in Barrett’s syndrome in detail.

Symptoms, ailments & signs

Causal heartburn is one of the typical symptoms of Barrett’s syndrome. Reflux manifests itself, among other things, by a burning sensation in the area of ​​the esophagus, usually associated with a relatively strong feeling of pressure or heat in the nasopharynx, which can radiate from the upper abdomen to the sternum. This is accompanied by a feeling of tightness behind the breastbone.

Many people also suffer from nausea and vomiting. Also hoarseness may occur. Furthermore, Barrett’s syndrome can lead to coughing and belching in its course. A typical sign of the syndrome is the thick voice, which is especially noticeable as the disease progresses. Breathlessness and asthma are also typical signs.

Some patients also develop chronic bronchitis. Barrett’s syndrome can also lead to swallowing difficulties and, as a result, to weight loss. Affected people have a throat clearing, which increases the hoarseness and can cause other complaints such as irritation and bleeding.

An inflammation of the esophagus can develop, which manifests itself as a severe sore throat, slimy to bloody sputum and difficulty breathing. On the basis of the symptoms and complaints mentioned, Barrett’s syndrome can be differentiated from other diseases and clearly diagnosed.

Diagnosis & course

The course of Barrett’s syndrome is characterized by the growth of abnormal cell structures. In this context, one can also speak of esophageal cancer, which can initially appear through discomfort when swallowing.

Barrett’s syndrome also manifests itself through permanent heartburn and later through painful abnormalities in the upper esophageal region. The pain is usually felt behind the sternum (breastbone) or the upper back. Those affected also suffer from a decline in normal body weight and can only eat thin meals with great difficulty.

Patients whose health is already impaired by reflux disease and the backflow of gastric acid should pay particular attention to these symptoms in order to eliminate the risk of cancer in good time.

For the diagnosis of Barrett’s syndrome, the information about risk groups such as permanent belching with a sour taste, vomit with blood, black feces and swallowing difficulties are important. In Barrett’s syndrome, these are extended by complex medical-technical examinations such as an endoscopy of the esophagus, a so-called chromoendoscopy endoscopy with dyes) and a narrow band imaging endoscopy with blue and green colored light beams). Biopsies are also evaluated in Barrett’s syndrome.


Since various diseases are grouped under Barrett’s syndrome, there are also different complications. In most cases, the patient has what is known as heartburn. Heartburn can greatly reduce the quality of life.

Ordinary food intake is no longer possible, and there is often a strong burning sensation in the stomach and esophagus immediately after eating. Heartburn can also lead to tumors and ulcers, which are life-threatening. The stomach is irritated and it is usually no longer possible to eat acidic or salty foods.

This restricts the patient’s everyday life, which often leads to social difficulties if certain events are avoided. It is not uncommon for Barrett’s syndrome to cause shortness of breath or inflammation in the esophagus. Barrett’s syndrome is further exacerbated when ingestion of alcohol.

Treatment is therefore based on the complete withdrawal from alcohol and other unhealthy foods and beverages. The symptoms are combated with the help of medication. There are usually no further complications. More serious cases are treated with surgery. The reflux disease can also lead to restrictions in sports activities, so that it is no longer possible to perform without pain.

When should you go to the doctor?

A doctor should be consulted at the first symptoms and symptoms of Barrett’s syndrome. The disease can have a very negative impact on the health of the patient and lead to irreversible damage or even cancer.

For this reason, the person should see a doctor if heartburn is common or if reflux disease is prevalent. A doctor should also be asked for advice in the event of persistent burping or coughing. It is not uncommon for Barrett’s syndrome to be associated with inflammation of the esophagus or with shortness of breath.

These symptoms are also indicative of Barrett’s syndrome and should be examined by a doctor to avoid further complications. Difficulty swallowing or other problems with ingesting food or liquids can also indicate this syndrome and should be investigated.

Barrett’s syndrome can also lead to dark stools and bloody stools. First and foremost, the general practitioner is consulted in Barrett’s syndrome. Further examinations or treatments are then carried out by the internist or gastroenterologist. In acute emergencies, the patient can also go to a hospital directly.

Treatment & Therapy

Treatment for Barrett’s syndrome should be started as soon as possible. The basics of therapy are special interventions, a change in lifestyle and permanent medical control.

Over-the-counter medications are given to counteract heartburn. However, if the classic symptoms of Barrett’s syndrome occur, pharmaceutical substances that require a prescription are prescribed. These are called H2 blockers and are usually taken for four to eight weeks. This treatment should be accompanied by a change in the composition of the food.

In order to inhibit the production of stomach acid, nicotine and alcohol should be reduced. Strongly spicy, spicy dishes also provoke high levels of gastric acid.

A surgical procedure known as fundoplication can improve the closing mechanism of the esophagus so that stomach acid cannot enter the esophagus. In the majority of the operated cases, the patients still cannot manage without medication.

Outlook & forecast

Ten percent of all reflux patients develop Barrett’s syndrome. It occurs four times more often in men than in women due to their higher consumption of tobacco and alcohol.

If left untreated, the constant irritation can cause scar tissue to form and constrict the esophagus. If this condition lasts for several years, there is also the risk that the pathological changes in the mucous membrane will develop into esophageal cancer. The higher the area of ​​Barrett’s lining in the esophagus, the higher the risk of developing cancer.

To prevent this development, it is advisable to have a diagnosed Barrett’s syndrome closely monitored by a gastroenterologist. He will monitor the development of the disease with the help of endoscopic follow-ups and, if necessary, suggest suitable therapy methods.

As a preventive measure, the patient should avoid alcohol, nicotine and spicy and acidic foods and eat a diet rich in protein. It is advisable to lose excess weight and avoid stress as much as possible. To reduce stomach acid, the doctor will prescribe medication such as proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers. With regular medical care there are good prospects for a relatively symptom-free life with the prognosis that tumor disease can be prevented in most cases.


Little evidence is available for the prophylaxis of Barrett’s syndrome. These are largely aimed at optimizing the unfavorable external factors in relation to the nutritional composition and avoiding nicotine and alcohol. Losing excess weight is also recommended as a preventive measure against Barrett’s syndrome. Elevated positioning of the upper body when lying down can also prevent gastric acid reflux and the associated Barrett’s syndrome.


Barrett’s syndrome requires lifelong medical supervision. There is a consensus among doctors that endoscopic control is required at regular intervals. The purpose of this is to ascertain the condition of the esophagus. The rhythm should increase especially when a tissue sample certifies a precancerous stage. This can prevent complications. Acute intervention through an operation is possible.

In addition, patients should pay attention to a few everyday tips. You will be informed of this by the attending physician. Compliance is advisable, because only then will the typical symptoms disappear. The main focus is on a balanced and healthy diet. Food and drinks that contain a lot of acid are considered harmful.

Even foods that are particularly hot should be avoided because they cause irritation. A half-hour walk is recommended after each main meal. Those affected should maintain their normal weight or lose excess fat. It has been scientifically proven that alcohol and nicotine cause symptoms.

Wearing overly tight clothing is just as harmful. In many cases it helps to calm down at night to lie with your upper body elevated while sleeping. It is not uncommon for doctors to prescribe drugs that reduce the acid content. Some of them are even available without a prescription and can be taken as prescribed.

You can do that yourself

If you suspect Barrett’s syndrome, you should speak to a doctor first. Together with the doctor, a number of self-help measures can be worked out, through which the esophageal disease can often be reversed.

After the diagnosis, a change in lifestyle is recommended. A healthy and balanced diet is the most effective remedy for the syndrome. In addition, digestive walks should be built into the daily routine. Patients who are overweight suffer should change this through sporting activities and a change of diet.

Luxury foods such as alcohol, nicotine, or coffee should be avoided after diagnosing Barrett’s esophagus. Likewise, foods and drinks that contain a lot of acid, are particularly spicy or could irritate the esophagus in other ways. A detailed nutrition plan should be worked out in cooperation with the responsible doctor.

To reduce the acute symptoms, those affected should sleep with the upper body elevated at night. Barrett’s esophagus patients should also not wear tight clothing and always keep their necks warm to avoid complications from colds. Further tips for the treatment of Barrett’s syndrome can be found in information brochures and discussions with other sufferers.

Barrett's Syndrome 101

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