Esophageal Perforation

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Esophageal perforation is a hole in the wall of the esophagus, which is the muscular tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.

What is going on in the body?

Certain injuries or diseases can create a hole in the esophagus. When food is swallowed, some of it can leak out of the esophagus into the chest cavity.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

A hole in the esophagus can be caused by certain diseases and conditions, such as:

  • gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. This condition, which irritates the lower part of the esophagus, occurs when stomach acids flow back into the esophagus. If GERD isn’t treated, it can also create ulcers. These ulcers can eat through the wall of the esophagus, causing a hole.
  • Mallory-Weiss syndrome, a condition in which a person has such severe vomiting that tears occur in the lower part of the esophagus
  • cancer of the esophagus
  • Holes in the esophagus can also be the result of an accidental injury. Sometimes this occurs when a doctor uses a lighted tube, called an endoscope, to look down a person’s esophagus. It also can happen when a healthcare provider inserts a stomach tube through the nose to feed a person or to remove the contents of his or her stomach.

    Symptoms & Signs

    What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?

    Esophageal perforation often causes:

  • burning pain in the chest
  • pain with breathing when contents leak out of the esophagus
  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the condition diagnosed?

    Perforation can be diagnosed by an upper GI study, a test in which x-rays are taken after the person has swallowed a thick dye. If the healthcare provider suspects a perforation, endoscopy may be done first. An endoscopy involves the insertion of a thin tube through which the doctor can see the walls of the esophagus.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the condition?

    Careful attention can usually prevent injury from endoscope and nasogastric tube insertion. Treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease can prevent the inflammation and ulcers that cause perforation. Drinking less alcohol can usually prevent the severe vomiting that leads to tears. Treatment of cancer of the esophagus can delay or lower the risk of holes.

    What are the long-term effects of the condition?

    A perforation can lead to infection or inflammation in the chest area. Cancer of the esophagus can spread and lead to death.

    What are the risks to others?

    There is no risk to others.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the condition?

    Small holes in the esophagus sometimes heal on their own. Usually, though, surgery is needed to close the hole. A person with cancer of the esophagus may get better with radiation therapy or chemotherapy, but may still need surgery to remove the affected area.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Any surgery can cause bleeding, infection, or allergic reaction to the anesthesia.

    What happens after treatment for the condition?

    After the esophageal perforation is repaired, the cause of the perforation must be managed. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, for instance, needs careful management to prevent complications.

    How is the condition monitored?

    Once it has been repaired, an esophageal perforation usually needs no monitoring. The diseases that cause it may need to be followed for some time.

    Article type: xmedgeneral