Esophagus is a long hollow muscular tube that forms a passage for food and liquid between the mouth and stomach. It is situated behind the windpipe (trachea) and the heart. It is in front of the spine. Normally food and liquid that is swallowed easily passes through the esophagus. But in certain condition it may get completely blocked or narrow. In such situation food bolus and liquid is unable to pass through it into the stomach.
This condition can occur due to certain medical diseases or injury. Since the food and liquid cannot pass into the stomach, it is soon vomited out.As the diameter of esophagus decreases, people find difficulty in swallowing food particularly certain food items such as meat and bread. Treatment of esophageal blockage varies according to the underlying cause.
What Causes A Blockage In The Esophagus?
Esophagus may be blocked or become narrow due to many reasons. Some of the common causes of esophageal blockage are:
- Injury to the esophagus is the most common cause for esophageal obstruction. Injury can occur due to damage to the walls of esophagus by medicines or from ingestion of corrosive substances such as acid and alkalis. Injury can also occur due to instrumentation for diagnostic and investigative purpose.
- A foreign substance swallowed such as a metal coin can get lodged in the lumen of esophagus. This is more common in children who accidentally swallow certain hard and big objects that may get trapped in the esophagus leading to obstruction.
- Some people are born with esophageal abnormality that may cause narrowing or complete blockage. Esophageal atresia, esophageal webs are few such abnormalities that can cause obstruction in the food passage.
- Cancer of esophagus is one of the most common causes for obstruction in the esophagus. It usually occurs in people over the age of 40, but sometimes young individuals can also be affected.
- Prolonged placement of nasogastric tub in the stomach can irritate the esophageal lining and may lead to narrowing of the food pipe.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is one of the causes that may cause scarring on the lower end of esophageal lining leading to narrowing and blockage in a long run.
- Obstruction inside the esophagus can sometimes occur due to compression from outside. For example an enlarged thyroid can compress the food pipe. It is situated near to the esophagus. A bony growth from spine or an aneurysm of aorta can cause compression on the esophagus which may lead to obstruction and narrowing of the passage.
- Achlasia cardia is condition for obstruction. In this condition the lower end of esophagus fails to open up when you swallow food. It occurs due to damage to the nerves that innervate the esophagus.
Signs And Symptoms Of Esophageal Obstruction
The signs and symptoms of blockage in the esophagus include the following:
- Patient has difficulty in swallowing solid food in the beginning. Later on patient may also experience difficulty in swallowing liquid.
- Pain in the center of chest after swallowing.
- Patient feels the sensation of stuck food in the chest.
- Vomiting soon after swallowing.
- Patient feels as if he is choked after eating or drinking.
- Persistent hiccups.
- Weight loss as very less amount of food goes down in the stomach. The food is often vomited out soon after eating.
- Shortness of breath.
Treatment Options For Esophageal Blockage
Blockage of esophagus is a serious medical condition which may require immediate medical attention. Treatment absolutely depends on the underlying cause.
- For example if the cause of narrowing is GERD, patient may be treated conservatively with proton pump inhibitor medicines to reduce the risk of stricture formation in the lower end of esophagus.
- In case of achalasia cardia a small tube is passed through the endoscope with a balloon at its lower end. The balloon is inflated which stretches the contracted lower end sphincter of the esophagus.
- If a foreign object such as coin or a metal obstructs the internal hollow of the food pipe, it is removed out with the help of endoscope.
- Cancer of esophagus requires surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy depending on the severity of the condition.
Besides the above medical procedures and medicines, patient may also refer to home remedies to reduce pain in a natural way. A combined approach of medical treatment as well as change is lifestyle and eating habits can ease the problem.
- Eat small meals frequently.
- Chew the food before swallowing.
- Patient may have to rely more on soft foods as in case of obstruction due to cancer of esophagus. Eat custards, soups, pudding, applesauce etc.
- Avoid eating spicy and oily food as it may irritate the internal lining of the esophagus.
- Patient should drink fluid while eating.