According to the Mayo Clinic, the exact cause of Barrett's esophagus is unknown, but it is most commonly found in people with a history of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. GERD causes stomach acids to regurgitate back into the esophagus, causing severe damage. As the esophagus begins to heal itself, newly formed cells can transform into the kind of cells present in Barrett's esophagus, according to the Mayo Clinic.
WebMD states that patients with Barrett's esophagus have an increased risk of developing a serious cancer of the esophagus known as esophageal adenocarcinoma. Despite the cancer's rarity, WebMD recommends that those suffering from Barrett's have routine esophagus examinations. With routine exams, doctors are better able to find precancerous cells and diagnose the disease earlier, while it's less difficult to treat.
Barrett's esophagus lacks specific symptoms and is only diagnosed with a biopsy and upper endoscopy, according to WebMD. The Mayo Clinic states that these tests categorize the degree of dysplasia in the esophagus cells. No dysplasia means there are no precancerous cells; low-grade dysplasia indicates the cells show small signs of precancerous changes; and high grade dysplasia is the final step before which cells turn into esophageal cancer. The American Gastroenterological Association recommends these screenings for people with multiple risk factors, such as male sex, age over 50, white race, obesity and long-standing GERD.