Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Esophagitis is an inflammation of the lining of the esophagus. The esophagus isthe tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.

What is going on in the body?

The lining of the esophagus becomes inflamed because of an infection orsomething that has irritated the lining. Esophagitis is called acute when itoccurs suddenly. It is called chronic when it lasts for a long time.

What are the causes and risks of the disease?

Causes of esophagitis include:

  • infections by organisms such as candida, cytomegalovirus (CMV), or herpes simplex
  • diseases and conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV, poorly controlled diabetes, immunodeficiency disorders, chemotherapy, chronic steroid use, or malnutrition
  • chemicals that are swallowed
  • pills that become stuck in the esophagus
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease,or GERD, a condition in which stomach acid splashes back up into theesophagus
  • medications and supplements such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,alendronate, doxycycline, iron,andpotassium
  • Symptoms & Signs

    What are the signs and symptoms of the disease?

    Symptoms of esophagitis include:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • pain that can range from mild to severe
  • a feeling that something is stuck in the throat
  • nausea or vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • reluctance to eat because of pain while swallowing
  • fast breathing
  • chest pain
  • blood in the stools
  • increased salivation or drooling
  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the disease diagnosed?

    After a complete history and physical, any of these tests may be done:

  • endoscopy, which uses a scope,orlong tube, to see the esophagus and look for possible causes of symptoms.Biopsies may also be done with theendoscope.
  • upper GI series, in which theperson swallows liquid barium, and X-rays are taken to follow the course of thebarium through the esophagus and into the stomach.
  • blood tests, including a complete blood count(CBC), to check for infection
  • esophageal motility tests, to evaluate the movement of food through theesophagus
  • pH tests, to measure the acid content of the esophagus
  • Other tests may be done, depending on the symptoms.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the disease?

    Maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking, and limiting alcoholintake may decrease the risk of esophagitis. Other ways to decrease the riskinclude:

  • eating a nutritious diet based on the food guide pyramid
  • getting adequate rest
  • practicing safer sex
  • getting proper treatment for GERD
  • Esophagitis caused by toxic substances can be avoided by:

  • storing chemicals in properly labeled containers and keeping them out of thereach of children
  • always taking pills with adequate amounts of liquid and at least 15 minutesbefore lying down
  • Prevention of esophagitis is not always possible.

    What are the long-term effects of the disease?

    If the cause of the esophagitis is an infection, and the infection is treated,the inflammation may improve.If a toxic chemical, such as lye, bleach, or gasoline is ingested, theesophagus can perforate, or rupture. This esophageal perforation can be fatal.

    Conditions such as GERD canirritate and narrow the esophagus. Chronic GERD can result in Barrett’s esophagus. In Barrett’sesophagus,the lining of the esophagus is so badly damaged that a new lining is formed.The changes in the cells lining the esophagus pose an increased risk for esophageal cancer.

    What are the risks to others?

    Esophagitis itself is not contagious and poses no risk to others. If the causeis an infection, such as herpessimplex, the infection may be contagious.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the disease?

    Treatment of esophagitis is directed at the cause. Treatment may include:

  • antibiotics, antiviral, or antifungal medications for infections
  • medications to treat underlying conditions, such as GERD or diabetes
  • maintaining a healthy lifestyle
  • surgery to repair the esophagus
  • What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Medications used to treat infections may cause allergic reactions, stomach upset, and headache. Surgery carries a risk of bleeding, infection, andallergic reactions to anesthesia.

    What happens after treatment for the disease?

    For mild, intermittent symptoms, treatment with antacids, diet changes, andactivity recommendations may control symptoms. Recovery from surgery may be afew days to several weeks depending on the procedure used.

    How is the disease monitored?

    Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.Careful attention to symptoms that recur is important so that early treatmentcan begin.

    Article type: xmedgeneral