Cold Comfort: Treating Barrett's Esophagus with Cryotherapy

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

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Barrett’s esophagus is a disease in which the tissue of the esophagus changes into tissue similar to the tissue in the intestines. These changes in the tissue are often caused by acid reflux disease. Research on the condition suggests that recurrent exposure to acid causes damage to the esophageal cells, and that when the esophagus frequently attempts to repair itself as a response, it leads to changes in the cells. ymptoms of Barrett’s Esophagu In some cases, people with Barrett’s esophagus will have no symptoms of the illness at all. However, those with associated acid reflux can have quite painful symptoms. If you have frequent heartburn, problems swallowing food, or pain in the chest area, it’s time to see your doctor. Patients diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus should be monitored for precancerous changes because in a small number of cases, the disease could progress to esophageal cancer. However, when caught early, these precancerous cells can be treated to prevent these cancers from developing.

Finding new ways to address this condition, then, is of huge importance to those who suffer from it. ryotherapy for Barrett’ One new cryotherapy procedure is showing great promise for treating Barrett’s esophagus. This procedure involves using an endoscope to look into the esophagus and spraying liquid nitrogen through a tube onto the damaged tissue. The liquid nitrogen is cooled to approximately minus 320 degrees -- a temperature capable of freezing off the damaged layer of cells. In a 2013 study conducted by the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology (University of Maryland School of Medicine), patients were seen every eight weeks until the cryotherapy had completely eliminated damaged cells.

Complete eradication of high grade dysplasia (CE-HGD) was found to be 100 percent at the end of the study and 97 percent at the two-year follow-up. Intestinal metaplasia (CE-IM) was eradicated in 84 percent of the participants and was still eliminated in 81 percent of the participants at the two-year follow-up. There were no adverse reactions.

Cryotherapy for Barrett's Esophagus dditional risk factors for Barrett' While this new procedure seems promising, decreasing the risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus in the first place is the best approach to the disease. There are several risk factors for developing Barrett’s, with acid reflux disease right at the top. If you have had acid reflux disease for years, even if it’s being treated by medications, you should talk with a gastroenterologist about your risk factors. Being male, overweight, over the age of 50, Caucasian or a smoker can also increase your risk for developing the disease. ighting acid reflu Some of the risk factors for developing Barrett’s esophagus are also things that can make acid reflux worse. So, if you are overweight or smoking, now is the time to tackle both of those problems. Check out Health Central’s Diet and Exercise Page for helpful tips for losing weight and this article for for advice on quitting smoking for good.

It can also be helpful to reduce other acid reflux triggers like:

  • Eating too much at a meal

  • Lying down after a meal

  • Wearing tight clothing

Foods that might bring on the burn include:

  • Citrus fruits or juices

  • Caffeine

  • Black pepper

  • Spicy foods

  • Rich or high-fat foods

  • Chocolate

  • Peppermint

  • Fatty dairy products

  • Tomato or tomato products (e.g., ketchup)

If you have done all of these things and are still dealing with painful acid reflux, your doctor may suggest the use of medication to reduce the acid. One type of medication, PPI or Proton Pump Inhibitor, has been linked to a whole host of side effects, so be sure to have a risk vs. benefit conversation with your physician before beginning any medication.

Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition.She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years.Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.