Definition

Esophagitis refers to any inflammation, irritation, or swelling of the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that leads from the back of the mouth to the stomach.

Alternative Names

Inflammation - esophagus; Erosive esophagitis

Causes

Esophagitis is often caused by stomach fluid that flows back into the esophagus. The fluid contains acid which irritates the tissue. This problem is 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 medicines without drinking plenty of water. These medicines include alendronate, doxycycline, ibandronate, risedronate, tetracycline, potassium tablets, and vitamin C
  • Vomiting

People who have a weakened immune system may develop infections that lead to esophagitis. Infection may be due to:

  • Fungi or yeast (most often Candida)
  • Viruses, such as herpes or cytomegalovirus

Symptoms

The infection or irritation may cause the esophagus to become inflamed. Sores called ulcers may form.

Symptoms may include:

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

Exams and Tests

The doctor may perform the following tests:

  • Esophageal manometry
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), removing a piece of tissue from the esophagus for examination (biopsy)
  • Upper GI series (barium swallow x-ray)

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause.

  • For reflux disease, you may need to take medicines that reduce stomach acid.
  • Infections will need to be treated with antibiotics.
  • Eosinophilic esophagitis is treated with medication and possibly eliminating certain foods from your diet.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most of the time, the disorders that cause esophagitis respond to treatment.

Possible Complications

If untreated, esophagitis may cause severe discomfort. Scarring (stricture) of the esophagus may develop. This can cause swallowing problems.

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

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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

References

Falk GW, Katzka DA. Diseases of the esophagus. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 140.

Richter JE, Friedenberg FK. Gastroesophageal reflux disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 43.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 8/11/2014
  • Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Aria Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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