An esophageal stricture is an abnormal tightening of the esophagus. Esophageal strictures can limit or block food and liquid that’s traveling from the throat to the stomach. Swallowing is difficult and you feel food is stuck in your throat. GERD is the most common cause of strictures, but cancer and other issues can also cause them. A dilation procedure can widen the esophagus and reduce symptoms.
An esophageal stricture is an abnormal tightening or narrowing of the esophagus.
Your esophagus is a muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach, carrying food and liquid. A stricture narrows the esophagus, making it more difficult for food to travel down the tube. In severe cases, even drinking liquid can be difficult.
Esophageal strictures can be:
Strictures may be simple or complex:
People with esophageal strictures may have pain or difficulty swallowing.
Risk factors for esophageal strictures include:
Esophageal strictures are not common. They can occur at any age but usually affect people older than 40 years.
Conditions or treatments that cause inflammation or scarring in the esophagus can lead to strictures:
An esophageal constriction may cause:
Talk to a healthcare provider if you experience any of these symptoms. Strictures can lead to malnutrition and dehydration. Your provider can figure out what’s causing the strictures, so you get the right treatment and feel better.
Your healthcare provider asks you about your symptoms and medical history and performs a physical exam. Other tests can confirm a diagnosis.
These tests can help confirm an esophageal stricture:
Esophageal dilation is the most common treatment for strictures. Your provider uses a balloon or dilator (a long plastic or rubber cylinder) to widen the narrow area of the esophagus.
Before the procedure, your healthcare provider gives you sedatives to help you relax and reduce pain. Your provider will also numb your throat. If you have GERD, you may receive medication that makes your body produce less acid.
Then your provider inserts an endoscope down your throat and into your esophagus. The goal of the procedure is to insert either:
Some patients with complex strictures may also receive metal esophageal stents to prop open strictures.
A dilation procedure is an outpatient treatment. You can go home once the medicines wear off. Your healthcare provider may tell you to avoid eating, drinking, working or driving for a period of time. They may also prescribe medications to control acid at home.
Your provider will discuss your schedule of follow-up appointments with you. Be sure to stick to the follow-up schedule to make sure you’re healing well and that there are no complications.
GERD is the most common cause of esophageal strictures. Certain lifestyle changes can help you control GERD and prevent or delay strictures:
Most symptomatic strictures require dilation to fix the problem. Many patients need more than one dilation over time to keep the esophagus wide enough for food to pass through.
In rare cases, severe and untreated esophageal strictures can cause perforations (small rips), which can be life-threatening. Don’t delay seeing your provider about any swallowing problems.
Your healthcare provider may need to repeat the dilation procedure to stop your esophagus from narrowing again.
If you have a stricture, see a healthcare provider. They can determine how narrow your esophagus is and treat any underlying conditions, such as GERD.
Your healthcare provider will probably recommend lifestyle changes and healthy food choices. Follow those recommendations to ease your symptoms and reduce your chances of choking.
If you have a dilation procedure, follow your healthcare provider’s instructions afterward. Always take your medications as prescribed and attend follow-up appointments.
Call your provider if you:
What else should I ask my healthcare provider?
If you have an esophageal stricture, consider asking your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/27/2020.
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