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Esophagitis

Definition

Esophagitis is a general term for any inflammation, irritation, or swelling of the esophagus, the tube that leads from the back of the mouth to the stomach.

See also: Esophagitis herpes

Alternative Names

Inflammation - esophagus

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Esophagitis is frequently caused by the backflow of acid-containing fluid from the stomach to the esophagus, a condition called gastroesophageal reflux. An autoimmune disorder called eosinophilic esophagitis also causes this condition.

The following increase your risk of esophagitis:

  • Alcohol use
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Surgery or radiation to the chest (for example, treatment for lung cancer)
  • Taking certain medications without plenty of water especially alendronate, tetracycline, doxycycline, and vitamin C
    • Vomiting

Persons with weakened immune systems due to HIV and certain medications (such as corticosteroids) may develop infections that lead to esophagitis.

Esophageal infection may be due to fungi, yeast (especially Candida infections), or viruses such as herpes or cytomegalovirus.

Symptoms

The infection or irritation may cause the esophagus to become inflamed. Ulcers may form. Symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Painful swallowing
  • Heartburn (acid reflux)
  • Hoarseness
  • Sore throat

Signs and tests

The doctor may perform the following tests:

  • Upper GI series (barium swallow x-ray)
  • Removal of a piece of tissue from the esophagus for examination (biopsy)

Treatment

Treatment depends on the specific cause. Reflux disease may require medications to reduce acid. Infections will require antibiotics.

Expectations (prognosis)

The disorders that cause esophagitis usually respond to treatment.

Complications

If untreated, esophagitis may cause severe discomfort, and eventual scarring (stricture) of the esophagus. This can cause difficulty swallowing food or medications.

A condition called Barrett's esophagus can develop after years of gastroesophageal reflux. Rarely, Barrett's esophagus may lead to cancer of the esophagus.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of esophagitis.

References

Orlando R. Diseases of the esophagus. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 140.


Review Date: 7/7/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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