Diagnosis of Barrett's Esophagus

How do doctors diagnose Barrett’s esophagus?

Doctors diagnose Barrett’s esophagus with an upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy and a biopsy. Doctors may diagnose Barrett’s esophagus while performing tests to find the cause of a patient’s gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms.

Medical history

Your doctor will ask you to provide your medical history. Your doctor may recommend testing if you have multiple factors that increase your chances of developing Barrett’s esophagus.

Upper GI endoscopy and biopsy

In an upper GI endoscopy, a gastroenterologist, surgeon, or other trained health care provider uses an endoscope to see inside your upper GI tract, most often while you receive light sedation. The doctor carefully feeds the endoscope down your esophagus and into your stomach and duodenum. The procedure may show changes in the lining of your esophagus.

The doctor performs a biopsy with the endoscope by taking a small piece of tissue from the lining of your esophagus. You won’t feel the biopsy. A pathologist examines the tissue in a lab to determine whether Barrett’s esophagus cells are present. A pathologist who has expertise in diagnosing Barrett’s esophagus may need to confirm the results.

Barrett’s esophagus can be difficult to diagnose because this condition does not affect all the tissue in your esophagus. The doctor takes biopsy samples from at least eight different areas of the lining of your esophagus.

Normal esophagus
Barrett's esophagus

Who should be screened for Barrett’s esophagus?

Your doctor may recommend screening for Barrett’s esophagus if you are a man with chronic—lasting more than 5 years—and/or frequent—happening weekly or more—symptoms of GERD and two or more risk factors for Barrett’s esophagus. These risk factors include

  • being age 50 and older
  • being Caucasian
  • having high levels of belly fat
  • being a smoker or having smoked in the past
  • having a family history of Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal adenocarcinoma
March 2017
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.