Esophagitis is a general term for any inflammation, irritation, or swelling of the esophagus, the tube that leads from the back of the mouth to the stomach.
Alternative NamesInflammation - esophagus
Esophagitis is frequently caused by the backflow of acid-containing fluid from the stomach to the esophagus (gastroesophageal reflux). You have a higher risk for esophagitis if you have had excessive vomiting, surgery or radiation to the chest (such as in lung cancer), or if you take medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, potassium, alendronate, and doxycycline.
Persons with weakened immune systems due to HIV and certain medications (such as corticosteroids) may develop infections that lead to esophagitis. Esophageal infection may be due to viruses such as herpes or cytomegalovirus, and fungi or yeast (especially Candida infections).
The infection or irritation may cause the tissues to become inflamed and occasionally form ulcers. You may have difficulty when swallowing and a burning sensation in the esophagus.
- Difficulty swallowing
- Painful swallowing
- Heartburn (acid reflux)
- Oral lesions (herpes)
Exams and Tests
The doctor may perform the following tests:
- Upper GI x-ray with barium
Treatment depends on the specific cause. Reflux disease may require medications to reduce acid. Infections will require antibiotics.
The disorders that cause esophagitis usually respond to treatment.
If untreated, esophagitis may cause severe discomfort, swallowing difficulty to the extent of causing malnutrition or dehydration, and eventual scarring of the esophagus. This scarring may lead to a stricture of the esophagus, and food or medications may not be able to pass through to the stomach.
A condition called Barrett's esophagus can develop after years of gastroesophageal reflux. Rarely, Barrett's esophagus may lead to cancer of the esophagus.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms that suggest esophagitis.