Esophagitis (UK ~ oesophagitis) is the medical term for inflammation of the esophagus, the long muscular tube of the gut which leads from the throat to the stomach. Esophagitis is a broad term to describe swelling of the esophagus, irritation of the mucosal lining or even lacerations of the esophageal wall. This may be a result of chemical irritation, medication, infections, trauma from retching or vomiting, temperature, radiation or autoimmune conditions.
There are various types of esophagitis named according to the cause. Prolonged exposure or continuation of the causative factor may lead from inflammation to hemorrhage, perforation and/or necrosis of the esophageal lining and wall. This can affect the stretching ability of the esophageal wall, mucus production of the esophageal lining and peristaltic activity responsible for esophageal motility and the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
As the condition progresses, the inflammation may lead to fibrosis and stricture formation. This causes narrowing of the esophagus and impairs the movement of food through the esophagus. Depending on the nature of the causative factor and structural changes as a result of esophageal tissue damage, esophagitis may lead to esophageal cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of Esophagitis
Depending on the nature an severity of the esophageal inflammation, some or all of the following symptoms may be present.
- Vomiting, possibly even bloody vomit (hematemesis)
- Gastrointestinal chest pain – burning (heartburn), aching, sharp pain similar to cardiac chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Painful swallowing (odynophagia)
- Lack of appetite
- Unintentional weight loss
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on September 2, 2010