Speare Memorial Hospital

Feeling the Burn of Chronic Reflux?

Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2014

New treatment introduced for Barrett’s Esophagus as a result of chronic reflux

From heartburn to more serious symptoms, such as choking or trouble swallowing, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or reflux, affects an estimated 15 million Americans. Of those, 13 percent are estimated to have Barrett’s esophagus.

Barrett’s is the development of abnormal tissue in the lower end of the esophagus due to a chronic acid environment as a result of reflux. The concern with Barrett’s esophagus is that it is pre-cancerous and could lead to the development of esophageal cancer.

“But it is also important to note, you don’t have to heartburn to have reflux,” says Dr. Joseph Casey of Plymouth General Surgery. “Many people with reflux don’t even know they have it because it can present as asthma-like symptoms due to the inhalation of acid, or your dentist might make a referral due to breakdown of enamel on your teeth.   As a result, patients could have Barrett’s and not even realize it.”

Dr. Casey explains that diet, lifestyle and stress are all contributors to the development of chronic reflux. Knowing that it is prevalent in our patient population, more screening endoscopies are being done and more Barrett’s is being diagnosed. Since patients with Barrett’s have .3% – .6% chance of the disease becoming cancer, early detection of Barrett’s and treatment of reflux are key.

That’s where a technique called radio frequency ablation, or RFA, comes in to play. Since Barrett’s tissue is very thin, RFA works well at removing it during an outpatient endoscopy procedure without damaging the underlying normal tissues.

Says Dr. Casey, “I became aware of RFA about five years ago when it was strictly being done in large medical centers with gastrointestinal specialties. As technology has changed, RFA has become more cost effective, making it accessible to community hospitals. Being able to offer RFA for the treatment of Barrett’s enables us to respond to a growing need in our patient population and help prevent the development of esophageal cancer.”

Treating Barrett’s doesn’t cure reflux, and not everyone who has Barrett’s should have RFA, notes Dr. Casey. Partnering with your primary care provider, Dr. Casey can recommend the right care for you based on your specific symptoms and their severity.

To learn more about reflux and understand your risk for Barrett’s esophagus and/or developing esophageal cancer, call Plymouth General Surgery at (603) 536-5670 to make an appointment.