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Barrett's Oesophagus

Barrett’s oesophagus is a change within the epithelium (inner layer of cells lining the gut) of the oesophagus that arises usually as a consequence of reflux. When oesophageal mucosa is repeatedly exposed to the gastric acid, as occurs in chronic gastro-oesophageal reflux, it becomes inflamed (oesophagitis). In response to repeated episodes of oesophagitis the oesophagus then changes the lining into one which resembles that found in the stomach, which secretes a layer of mucus containing bicarbonate. This mucus then protects the lining of the oesophagus from further acid exposure. This change in the character of the lining is usually visible at endoscopy and is known as Barrett’s oesophagus. This change is known to be a risk factor for the subsequent development of oesophageal cancer. However only a small proportion of patients diagnosed with Barretts oesophagus ever develop oesophageal cancer. The approximate risk is 1 in 200 per annum, perhaps not surprisingly the risk is proportionate to the length of Barrett’s mucosa.

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