In Zenker’s diverticulum, you have a pouch in the back of your throat. The pouch makes it hard for you to swallow food. Zenker’s diverticulum typically affects people ages 70 to 90 and develops over time. You may have the condition for many years before you have symptoms. Healthcare providers treat the condition with surgery.
A Zenker’s diverticulum is an issue that affects your throat (pharynx). It’s a pouch that forms at the bottom of your throat where your throat connects to your esophagus. The pouch traps food, making it hard for you to swallow. Zenker’s diverticulum typically affects people aged 70 to 90. You may have this condition for years before you develop noticeable symptoms, and it doesn’t go away on its own. Healthcare providers treat Zenker’s diverticulum with surgery.
No, it’s not. Studies estimate about 2 in 100,000 people develop this condition.
Zenker’s diverticulum may not cause symptoms unless a pouch grows so large that you have trouble swallowing food. Typically, pouches are a few centimeters in size.
The most common symptom is dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). Other symptoms may include:
Researchers don’t know the exact cause but think issues with your cricopharyngeus muscle are to blame. This muscle is at the top of your esophagus. It opens (relaxes) to let food in and then closes. When you swallow food, powerful muscles in your throat push food down toward your cricopharyngeus muscle. When this muscle doesn’t relax as it should, food gets caught in a muscular squeeze play that puts pressure on your pharynx wall. Over time, the pressure pushes tissue through the wall to make a pouch.
Risk factors for developing Zenker’s diverticulum include:
Potential complications include aspiration pneumonia and malnutrition.
That depends on your situation. If Zenker’s diverticulum causes serious complications like malnutrition or aspiration pneumonia, or it causes other bothersome symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend surgery.
Zenker’s diverticulum surgery involves removing, moving or altering the pouch in your throat so it doesn’t trap food. You may have open or endoscopic surgery.
Open surgery is making incisions (cuts) in your throat. In endoscopic surgery, healthcare providers use instruments that give them access to the pouch in your throat by going through your mouth. Your surgeon will evaluate your situation and recommend which surgery makes sense for you.
Most people recover within a few days to a couple of weeks. Your surgeon will explain what you can expect, but the recovery process typically includes:
Open and endoscopic surgery have similar potential complications:
The outlook is good, but Zenker’s diverticulum may come back after surgery. That’s because the condition happens when there’s an issue with how your throat muscles work.
Zenker’s diverticulum can make it hard for you to swallow food. You may feel like food is getting caught in your throat. Here are some steps that may help move food past the pouch:
You can eat most foods if you remember to chew each bite thoroughly. In general, you should avoid foods that could get caught in the pouch, like food with:
The condition is named after Friedrich Albert von Zenker, a German pathologist and doctor. In 1877, he published articles in 1877 about his experience treating people who have it.
A Zenker’s diverticulum is a pouch that develops in the back of your throat. The pouch makes it hard for you to swallow, so food can’t make its way to your stomach. You can have Zenker’s diverticulum for a long time before you notice symptoms. Most people are in their 70s, 80s or even 90s when they receive their diagnosis. The condition doesn’t go away on its own. Fortunately, healthcare providers can do surgery to remove, alter or move the pouch so it stops trapping food.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/27/2023.
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