Esophagitis is the irritation and inflammation of the lining of your esophagus, or food pipe. Because the lining of the esophagus is sensitive, many things can cause swelling and irritation.
These are some possible causes of irritation and inflammation:
- Stomach acid in the food pipe. If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach acid that leaks backward into your esophagus on a regular basis may cause esophagitis.
- Chronic vomiting
- Medications such as aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs
- Medical procedures, such as radiation therapy
- Infections that weaken your immune system
Esophagitis can have serious consequences that affect your quality of life. If left untreated, esophagitis may develop into a condition called Barrett’s esophagus. This may increase your risk for esophageal cancer.
You may be at risk for esophagitis unrelated to an infection if you:
- Are pregnant
- Are obese
- Are an elderly adult
- Consume a lot of alcohol, coffee, chocolate, fatty foods, or spicy foods
- Use certain medicines, including NSAID pain relievers, nitrates, and beta blockers
- Have a spinal cord injury
- Have had radiation therapy for chest tumors
- Swallow medicine with too little water or get a pill stuck in your throat
- Have scleroderma, an autoimmune disease
Problems that can occur with esophagitis include:
- Difficulty swallowing or eating
- Narrowing of the esophagus
- In about one in 50 adults, precancerous changes in the lining of the esophagus that lead to esophageal cancer
Preventing and living with esophagitis
Esophagitis can return if you do not make some changes in the way you live. Living with this condition means following your doctor’s recommendations on lifestyle changes and medication use.
You may experience these symptoms with esophagitis:
- Sore throat
- Feeling that something is stuck in your throat
- Sores in your mouth
- Nausea or vomiting
- Difficulty or painful swallowing
To make a diagnosis, your doctor may do these things:
- Take a medical history and do a physical exam.
- Order an upper GI series. For this test, your doctor will take X-ray images of your esophagus and stomach as you swallow a barium fluid that shows any problem areas.
- Order an endoscopy. This is an outpatient procedure in which your doctor uses a tiny camera on a thin, flexible tube to look inside your esophagus for signs of esophagitis.
- Do an esophageal pH test for stomach acid. Your doctor will use sensors or thin wires put in place during an endoscopy to gather information over one to three days. This may help your doctor find out about stomach acid that may be appearing in the esophagus.
Treatment for esophagitis depends on the cause. These are possible treatments:
- Therapy for the cause of your esophagitis
- Acid-blocking medicines
- Additional medications - Your doctor may prescribe drugs to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter, which keeps stomach acid in your stomach.
- Lifestyle changes - If your esophagitis is caused by GERD, your doctor might offer these recommendations:
- Become more active.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoid or limit alcohol.
- Stop smoking.
- Change your eating habits to limit acid or irritation of the esophagus. This might mean switching to a bland diet for a while and avoiding spicy foods, citrus foods, chocolate, fatty foods, and caffeine.
- Raise the head of your bed so that you sleep with your head slightly above your feet.
- Surgery - Your doctor may recommend surgery if you have bleeding or narrowing of the esophagus or if needed to control the spread of precancerous cells.