Background: The reported frequency of Barrett's esophagus (BE) in patients with reflux symptoms varies from 5% to 15%. The exact frequency of long-segment BE (LSBE) (>3 cm) and short-segment BE (SSBE) (<3 cm) in patients with chronic symptoms of GERD is uncertain. The aim of this study was to determine the frequency of LSBE and SSBE in consecutive patients presenting for a first endoscopic evaluation with GERD as the indication.
Methods: Consecutive patients presenting to the endoscopy unit of a Veterans Affairs Medical Center for a first upper endoscopy with the indication of GERD were prospectively evaluated. Demographic information (gender, race, age), data on tobacco use and family history of esophageal disease, and body mass index (BMI) were recorded for all patients. Before endoscopy, all patients completed a validated GERD questionnaire. The diagnosis of BE was based on the presence of columnar-appearing mucosa in the distal esophagus, with confirmation by demonstration of intestinal metaplasia in biopsy specimens. All patients with erosive esophagitis on the initial endoscopy underwent a second endoscopy to document healing and to rule-out underlying BE. Patients with a history of BE, alarm symptoms (dysphagia, weight loss, anemia, evidence of GI bleeding), or prior endoscopy were excluded.
Results: A total of 378 consecutive patients with GERD (94% men, 86% white; median age 56 years, range 27-93 years) were evaluated. A diagnosis of BE was made in 50 patients (13.2%). The median length of Barrett's esophagus (BE) was 1.0 cm (range 0.5-15.0 cm). Of the patients with BE, 64% had short-segment BE (SSBE) (overall SSBE frequency 8.5%). The overall frequency of long-segment BE (LSBE) was 4.8%. A hiatal hernia was detected in 62% of the patients with BE. Of the 50 patients with BE (median age 62 years, range 29-81 years), 47 (94%) were men and 98% were white. Eighteen patients (36%) were using tobacco at the time of endoscopy; 23 (46%) were former users. The median body mass index (BMI) of patients with BE was 27.3 (overweight). There were no significant differences between patients with LSBE and SSBE with respect to age, gender, ethnicity, BMI, and GERD symptom duration.
Conclusions: The frequency of BE in a high-risk patient group (chronic GERD, majority white men, age > 50 years) who sought medical attention is 13.2%, with the majority (64%) having SSBE. These data suggest that the frequency of BE in patients with GERD has not changed. The true prevalence of BE in the general population, including those who do not seek care, is undoubtedly lower, currently and historically. The majority of patients with BE are overweight and have a hiatal hernia. Demographic data for patients with LSBE and SSBE are similar, indicating that these are a continuum of the same process.