What is esophagitis?

Esophagitis is an inflammation of the lining of the esophagus, the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. If left untreated, this condition can become very uncomfortable, causing difficulty in swallowing, and ulcers or scarring of the esophagus. Barrett's esophagus, a complication of acid reflux, is a risk factor for cancer of the esophagus.

What causes esophagitis?

Esophagitis is an irritation of the esophagus caused by any of the following:

  • a backflow of acid fluid from the stomach to the esophagus (GERD)
  • vomiting
  • medications such as aspirin and anti-inflammatories
  • viruses, fungi, bacteria, or diseases that weaken the immune system

What are the symptoms of esophagitis?

Symptoms of esophagitis include:

  • difficult and/or painful swallowing
  • heartburn
  • acid regurgitation

If you have any of these symptoms, you should contact your health care provider.

How is esophagitis diagnosed?

Once your doctor has performed a thorough physical examination and reviewed your medical history, there are several tests that can be used to diagnose esophagitis. These include:

  • Endoscopy: A test in which a long, flexible lighted tube called an endoscope is used to look at the esophagus.
  • Biopsy: During this test, a small sample of the esophageal tissue is removed and then sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope.
  • Barium x-ray: During this procedure, x-rays are taken of the esophagus after the patient drinks a barium solution. Barium coats the lining of the esophagus and shows up white on an x-ray. This characteristic enables doctors to view any abnormalities.

How is esophagitis treated?

Treatment for esophagitis depends on its cause. While medications that block acid production may be recommended, other medications may be prescribed for infectious causes of esophagitis. While being treated for esophagitis, there are certain steps you can take to help limit any discomfort that you may feel. These include:

  • avoiding spicy foods such as those with pepper, chili powder, curry, and nutmeg;
  • avoiding acidic foods and beverages such as tomatoes, oranges, grapefruits and their juices. Instead, try nectars and imitation fruit drinks with vitamin C.
  • including more soft foods such as applesauce, cooked cereals, mashed potatoes, custards, puddings, and high-protein shakes in your diet.
  • taking small bites and chewing your food thoroughly;
  • avoiding alcohol and tobacco.

What is the prognosis (outlook) for people who have esophagitis?

The causes of esophagitis usually respond to treatment; however, some causes, such as acid reflux, may require long-term treatment.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 11/19/2014...#10138