Esophagitis is the inflammation of the lining of the esophagus. It presents with noticeable symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) and severe heartburn. An abnormal tightening of the esophagus is an esophageal stricture, a condition that is sometimes caused by esophagitis. Both of these conditions require medical intervention, as inflammation of the esophagus that goes untreated can turn into more serious conditions.
Your esophagus is the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. Sometimes swelling (inflammation) can occur, causing painful and uncomfortable digestive symptoms. Esophagitis is primarily caused by gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), which is when stomach acid makes its way into the esophagus, irritating it. Other causes of esophagitis include:
Symptoms of esophagitis are noticeable and can be painfully uncomfortable. Patients may experience:
Sometimes patients experience heartburn occasionally, and it’s easily treatable with over-the-counter antacids or OTC proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). But if these symptoms are persistent, you have difficulty swallowing, and regurgitation, consult your gastroenterologist as soon as possible.
Your doctor will ask about your family and medical history and your symptoms and give you a physical examination. If esophagitis is suspected, your gastroenterologist may want to perform some diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis. These include:
Treatment for esophagitis depends highly on its cause. If it is caused by infection, you may be prescribed medications to treat the infection. Other causes may require proton pump inhibitors (PP!s) and acid-blocking drugs. Much of the treatment for esophagitis can depend on lifestyle choices. You can avoid alcohol, tobacco, and spicy food to reduce inflammation. Also, acidic foods can contribute to esophagus inflammation. This includes tomatoes, tomato products, and citrus fruits.
An esophageal stricture occurs when the esophagus tightens abnormally. This tightening can fully or partially block food that travels from the throat to the stomach. Patients with stricture may feel like there is always something stuck in their throat, and they may have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). Esophageal strictures can be cancerous and benign, and there are two types:
Several factors can cause esophageal strictures, such as:
If you have a narrowing of the esophagus, you may experience some symptoms. These include:
If strictures aren’t treated, they can lead to dehydration and malnutrition because your body isn’t getting enough food and nutrients.
If you or your physician suspect you may have esophageal stricture, they will want to perform some diagnostics. Some are similar to diagnosing esophagitis; barium X-ray and endoscopy are used.
Your physician may also perform an ultrasound or esophageal manometry. During this procedure, your doctor will insert a thin tube through your nostril, which measures the valve and muscle function of your esophagus.
While esophagitis focuses on lifestyle changes to minimize symptoms, treatment for esophageal typically involves a noninvasive medical procedure to widen the esophagus, called esophageal dilation. This is an endoscopic procedure, where your physician inserts an endoscope into your mouth, down your throat, and into the esophagus. From here, your gastroenterologist may insert a balloon, which stretches the area, or plastic or rubber dilators to stretch the narrowing of the esophagus.
GERD is a common cause and denominator of both esophagitis and esophageal stricture. Lifestyle changes can help you manage your GERD symptoms, which lowers the risk of developing esophagitis or esophageal stricture. Management of GERD symptoms indicates you should:
Oftentimes, GERD symptoms can be managed with antacids or PPIs and changing lifestyle habits. As GERD is a contributing factor to more serious conditions, it’s important to address the root cause (if GERD is the cause of your esophageal problems).
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