If you’ve recently had an endoscopy, your doctor may have given you some pretty scary news that you have an irregular z-line. Most people don’t even know what a normal z-line is, let alone how it could appear to be abnormal. Just because you have an irregularity with your z-line, that doesn’t automatically mean you are at risk of cancer or other diseases, so although you should be concerned, there is no reason to be completely downhearted about this diagnosis.

What Is a Z-Line?

It may not be a term that you have ever heard before, but a z-line is actually a visible “line,” albeit a jagged one, between your stomach and your esophagus where the cells meet. The cells of your esophagus are delicate and a light pink or white, while the stomach cells are stronger to be able to handle acids on a regular basis, and they appear as a darker pink or velvety red.

A typical z-line is easily definable because there is no intermixing of the two different types of cells; however, an irregular z-line means that some of the esophageal cells have changed and darkened – due to acids from the stomach corroding the lining – so that line is not so clearly defined.

Alcohol can have a negative impact to your EsophagusImage: from Flickr

Alcohol can have a negative impact to your Esophagus

What Causes It to Be Irregular?

If you have gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD), regular heartburn, or Barrett’s Esophagus (BE), then these are the likely causes of those stomach acids damaging your esophagus, but a percentage of people diagnosed with an irregular z-line will have never had these issues at all. Being diagnosed with an irregular z-line does not, in itself, tell a patient anything.

What does cause concern for doctors is when that line is too blurred, and they may order biopsies to screen for cancerous and precancerous cells. Cancer forms when irregular cells multiply and grow rapidly, and these cells that are altered in your esophagus could certainly lend themselves to that.

Is There Cause for Concern?

If your doctor diagnoses you with an irregular z-line, you will need more information before you can take the next step. There are some important questions you need to ask as well as answer about your own medical history, such as:

  • Does your doctor think a biopsy is necessary to determine BE?
  • Do you have a history of heartburn or acid reflux?
  • Do you often feel nauseous or vomit?
  • Do you drink a lot of alcohol or very hot liquids?

If your doctor does decide to do a biopsy of the abnormal cells, it is entirely possible that nothing wrong will be found with those cells, and you will have no need to worry. Scheduling a check-up within a year would be a wise choice to ensure that the z-line hasn’t changed more. In many cases, an irregular z-line means just that – something in your body is not exactly like everyone else’s.

In a few rare cases, though, biopsy results will come back indicating BE or even cancerous or precancerous cells.

What If the Biopsy Results Aren’t Great?

Again, you will need to speak further with your doctor because bad biopsy news can vary in intensity. While esophageal cancer can be fatal in many cases, the disease itself is extremely rare and affects only a few thousand Americans per year. Your physician can best advise you on treatment options and work with you to create the most effective healing plan for you.

If your biopsy results of your irregular z-line indicate BE, however, then you have an even wider variety of treatment options available to you. First off, you should know that having BE certainly does not mean you will develop cancer, but it does mean you need to monitor your condition closely as well as take better care of your body.

How to Treat BE?

The first, if not the easiest, treatment step is to change your diet and lifestyle. You need to stay away from fatty, spicy, and very hot foods as well as avoid chocolate and other heartburn triggers. If you are used to eating very big meals in one sitting, you will need to adjust to smaller meals more often, and this can be a hard change for some people to make. Also, if you enjoy snacks before bedtime, make sure to eat earlier to give your esophagus every advantage to keep food out of it and in the stomach, where it belongs. Cut down on your coffee and orange juice intake, if not eliminate those drinks entirely, because these highly acidic drinks often cause heartburn, even though they can be very healthful in other circumstances.

Some people will find relief by simply changing the foods they eat and the times at which they eat their meals, but others may need more help. There are numerous drugs, both over the counter and prescription, that will help control your stomach acid and keep it from damaging your esophagus. Talk to your doctor about the best options for you; there are pills you can take immediately before or right after you eat, as well as varieties that you can take any time of the day or night.

Get Yearly Endoscopies and Biopsies

Unless your doctor recommends tests more often, an irregular z-line should be monitored on a yearly basis, even if you never experience any symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux. Unfortunately, the issue of altered esophageal cells is not one of those medical issues that reverses itself, but you can stop the change in its tracks from developing further or into something worse.

Many people live their whole lives with GERD and BE without even knowing they have it, but in the same token, cancer can develop in people without them knowing as well. You may see a silver lining in your z-line diagnosis in that you now have plenty of reasons to eat healthfully and monitor your health, so you and your doctor will notice right away if anything changes. If you’ve been diagnosed with an irregular z-line, give yourself the best opportunity to live a long and healthy life by eating right and getting check-ups often.