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How is Barrett's esophagus diagnosed?

Barrett's esophagus is diagnosed with a procedure called upper GI endoscopy, which involves passing an endoscope down into the esophagus to detect if there is any abnormal esophagus lining. (The patient is usually sedated so that he/she is comfortable during the procedure.) Barrett's esophagus may appear as a pinkish - red lining rather than the typical whitish lining. Doctors will check the whole esophagus as well as the top of the stomach.
Your doctor will first perform an imaging procedure of the esophagus using endoscopy to see if there are sufficient changes for Barrett's esophagus. In an upper endoscopy, the physician passes a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope through your mouth and into the esophagus, stomach and duodenum. The endoscope has a camera lens and a light source and projects images onto a video monitor. This allows the physician to see if there is a change in the lining of the esophagus. If your doctor suspects Barrett's esophagus, a sample of tissue (a biopsy) will be taken to make a definitive diagnosis.

Capsule endoscopy is another test that has been used to examine the esophagus. In capsule endoscopy, the patient swallows a pill-sized video capsule that passes naturally through your digestive tract while transmitting video images to a data recorder worn on your belt. With capsule endoscopy, the physician is not able to take a sample of the tissue (a biopsy). Both of these techniques allow the physician to view the end of the esophagus and determine whether or not the normal lining has changed.

Only an upper endoscopy procedure can allow the doctor to take a sample of the tissue from the esophagus to confirm this diagnosis, as well as to look for changes of potential dysplasia that cannot be determined on endoscopic appearance alone. Barrett's tissue has a different appearance than the normal lining of the esophagus and is visible during endoscopy. Taking a sample of the tissue from the esophagus through an endoscope only slightly lengthens the procedure time, causes no discomfort and rarely causes complications. Your doctor can usually tell you the results of your endoscopy after the procedure, but you will have to wait a few days for the biopsy results.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.