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Esophagitis

Definition

Esophagitis is present when the lining of the esophagus becomes swollen, inflamed, or irritated. The esophagus is the tube that leads from the back of the mouth to the stomach. It is also called the food pipe.

Alternative Names

Inflammation - esophagus; Erosive esophagitis; Ulcerative esophagitis

Causes

Esophagitis is often caused by stomach fluid that flows back into the food pipe. The fluid contains acid, which irritates the tissue. This problem is called gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). An autoimmune disorder called eosinophilic esophagitis also causes this condition.

The following increase your risk of this condition:

  • 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. Infections may lead to swelling of the food pipe. 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 food pipe to become inflamed. Sores called ulcers may form.

Symptoms may include:

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

The doctor may perform the following tests:

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause. Common treatment options are:

  • Medicines that reduce stomach acid in case of reflux disease
  • Antibiotics to treat infections
  • Medicines and diet changes to treat eosinophilic esophagitis
  • Medicines to coat the lining of the food pipe to treat damage related to pills

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most of the time, the disorders that cause swelling of the food pipe, respond to treatment.

If not treated, this condition may cause severe discomfort. Scarring (stricture) of the food pipe may develop. This can cause swallowing problems.

A condition called Barrett esophagus (BE) can develop after years of GERD. Rarely, BE may lead to cancer of the food pipe.

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-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 138.

Richter JE, Friedenberg FK. Gastroesophageal reflux disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 44.

Zurad EG. Esophagogastroduodenoscopy. In: Pfenninger JL, Fowler GC, eds. Pfenninger and Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2011:chap 101.

Review Date: 7/22/2016
Reviewed By: Subodh K. Lal, MD, gastroenterologist at Gastrointestinal Specialists of Georgia, Austell, GA. 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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