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:

Alternative Names

Inflammation - esophagus

Causes

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:

  • Excessive vomiting
  • Medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, potassium, alendronate, tetracycline, and doxycycline
  • Vitamin C supplements
  • Surgery or radiation to the chest (for example, treatment for lung cancer)

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 tissues to become inflamed and occasionally form ulcers. Symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

The doctor may perform the following tests:

Treatment

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

Outlook (Prognosis)

The disorders that cause esophagitis usually respond to treatment.

Possible Complications

If untreated, esophagitis may cause severe discomfort, swallowing difficulty to the extent of causing malnutrition or dehydration, and eventual scarring of the esophagus. This scarring may lead to a stricture of the esophagus, and food or medications may not be able to pass through to the stomach.

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

Maish M. Esophagus.In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 18th ed. St. Louis, Mo: WB Saunders; 2008:chap.41.

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: 7/17/2008
Reviewed By: Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Jefferson Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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