GERD, Barrett’s Esophagus & Achalasia: Risk Factors & Screening

Several lifestyle and dietary habits can make gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) persist or worsen. These include smoking, lying down after eating, and consuming large amounts of fatty foods, whole milk, citrus fruits, chocolate, mints, or alcohol. Weight gain can also cause or exacerbate the symptoms of GERD.

Risk factors for developing Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer include having had severe GERD for a long time, being male, and being overweight or obese. Most people with GERD do not develop Barrett’s esophagus, and only a small portion of those that do develop esophageal cancer.

However, because Barrett’s esophagus increases the risk of developing esophageal cancer by such a significant amount — 30 to 60 percent — doctors recommend that people over the age of 40 with chronic GERD symptoms undergo screening with endoscopy. This procedure, which is performed in a doctor’s office while under sedation, is used to assess the severity of the disease and rule out Barrett’s esophagus or cancer.

If you are diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, we may recommend you undergo endoscopy examinations every one to three years.

It is unclear why achalasia develops, and why a portion of these individuals in turn develop esophageal cancer.