Barrett's Esophagus Health Center

The esophagus is a tube that carries food and liquids from the mouth into the stomach as part of the digestion process. The stomach slowly pumps these substances into the intestine, which goes on to absorb the necessary nutrients. The muscular layers of the esophagus are typically pinched together at both the upper and lower ends by muscles known as sphincters. When you swallow, these sphincters relax to allow food and drink to pass from mouth to stomach. These muscles then close rapidly in order to prevent food and drink from leaking out from the stomach and back up into the esophagus and mouth.

Barrett's esophagus is a condition in which the tissue lining the esophagus is replaced by tissue similar to that found in the lining of the intestine. This occurs through a process called intestinal metaplasia.

The condition has no outward signs or symptoms but is commonly found in people who already have advanced acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is the presence of persistent acid reflux, or more specifically, it is the presence of acid reflux symptoms more than twice in a week. Abotu 10 to 20 percent of Americans experience GERD symptoms daily, making it one of the most common medical conditions affecting people of all ages.

Barrett's esophagus affects about 1 percent of adults in the United States. The average age of diagnosis is 50 years, but first discovering the condition can be difficult. Men develop the condition twice as often as women. The disease is uncommon in children and youth.

A small minority of individuals who develop Barrett's esophagus develop a rare but often deadly cancer of the esophagus.

Review Date: 
August 6, 2012
Last Updated:
December 3, 2013