Esophagus acts as a conduit for food between the mouth and stomach. It is also called food pipe. In normal circumstances food passes through the esophagus without any sensation. Symptoms such as heartburn, reflux, painful swallowing, chest pain, develop in diseases related to esophagus. These disorders can be congenital or acquired later in life.
There are number of esophageal disorders, but the most common among them is reflux esophagitis. In this disorder there is retrograde flow of stomach content back into the esophagus. Some of the esophageal disease can be cured with lifestyle change as in case of gastro-esophageal reflux while some require medical and surgical intervention.
Below are given some of the most common esophageal diseases and their signs and symptoms.
Signs And Symptoms Of Esophageal Disease
- The most common symptom of disorders related to esophagus includes pain and burning sensation (heartburn) behind the breastbone. It is exacerbated by eating, bending, or lying down and is worse after meals. Burning pain is relieved by swallowing liquid, water, saliva, and with upright posture.
- Heartburn is characteristic symptom of reflux disease in which the gastric content is regurgitated into the esophagus. It occurs due to weak esophageal sphincter, a valve which normally prevents back flow of gastric content. The acid and enzymes that are regurgitated leads to bitter taste in mouth.
- Belching, burning pain in chest and throat can result from overeating, eating too much of spicy food, drinking alcohol and smoking, etc.
- Dysphagia or difficulty in swallowing is another important indication of esophagus problem. There is a sensation of obstruction to the passage of food. It can result due to mechanical obstruction or problem of esophageal motility.
- Difficulty in swallowing due to obstruction can develop due to conditions such as esophageal cancer or esophageal stricture. In most cases the symptoms progresses slowly. Initially obstruction occurs only for solid food, but later on even liquid is difficult to swallow. Obstruction occurs due to inflammation or narrowing of the esophagus.
- Sometimes swallowing is painful. It occurs due to inflammation caused by monilial and herpes infection of esophagus. It also occurs in Barrett’s ulcer and esophageal cancer.
- Chest pain can occur due to perforation of esophagus, esophagus cancer, or achalasia cardia. The pain is severe and it is similar to that caused by angina.
What Are The Causes Of Esophageal Disease?
There are several esophageal disorders. Some of these disorders are mild while some are serious and life threatening conditions. Most of the symptoms mentioned are present in these diseases related to esophagus. Below are given the causes giving rise to symptoms of esophagus disease:
- Hiatus hernia
- Reflux acid disease
- Esophageal varices
- Spasm of esophagus
- Cancer of esophagus
- Perforation of esophagus
- Pill induced esophageal injury.
- Candida and herpes infection involving esophagus.
- Obesity and pregnancy can also cause reflux acid disease.
- Overeating, too much spicy food, alcohol, cigarette smoking.
- Injury to esophagus lining following ingestion of strong alkali or acid. It occurs most often accidentally or with suicidal intent.
Treatment Options For Esophageal Disease
Treatment of esophageal disease depends on the underlying cause. In most cases eating and living right will help in alleviating the symptoms and enhance the healing process. However, more life threatening conditions may require medical and surgical intervention.
- For example if esophagitis (inflammation of esophagus) is caused due to overeating or eating spicy food, you have to avoid such foods and opt for bland food for few days. Quit alcohol and cigarette as they damage the inner lining of esophagus. Avoid drinking too much of coffee and tea.
- Conditions such as achalasia cardia need medical intervention. Balloon dilatation and endoscopic injection of botulinum is effective in treating this condition.
- Infectious esophagitis can be due to bacterial infection or viral or fungal infection. Although rare these conditions can be cured with appropriate anti bacterial or anti viral or anti-fungal treatment.
- Patients suffering from hiatus hernia should reduce their weight. If the symptoms are severe patient may need surgery to correct the hernia.
- Cancer of esophagus has to be treated with chemotherapy, radiation or surgery depending on its severity and spread to the neighboring tissues and lymph glands.