Esophagitis is a condition that involves an irritation and inflammation of the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach. This condition may cause pain,difficulty swallowing, bleeding and if left untreated, ulcers may form within the esophagus.

Causes of Esophagitis

Esophagitis is often caused by stomach acid and fluids that flow backward into the esophagus causing pain and irritation. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a common cause of esophagitis. It may also be caused by a bacterial, fungal or viral infection in the esophagus such as a yeast infection or herpes, both of which can develop when the immune system is weak. Other factors that may irritate the esophagus and lead to esophagitis may include:

  • Certain medications
  • Alcohol
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Certain vitamins
  • Surgery
  • Radiation to the chest
  • Vomiting
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Immune system disorders such as HIV or diabetes

Symptoms of Esophagitis

Symptoms of esophagitis can be troubling and cause discomfort. Specific symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Heartburn
  • Chest Pain
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Mouth sores
  • Vomiting in severe cases
  • Ulcers within the lining of the esophagus

In severe cases of esophagitis, a condition called Barret's esophagus may develop. With Barret's esophagus, the continuous presence of the stomach acids within the esophagus, cause the tissue lining of the esophagus to resemble the lining of the small intestine. This condition may put a patient at a higher risk for esophageal cancer.

Diagnosis of Esophagitis

Esophagitis can be diagnosed by a physical examination by a doctor and a full review of patient's symptoms. Diagnostic tests are usually performed so the doctor can get a full view of the esophagus and the related organs. These tests may include:

  • Barium swallow
  • Esophageal endoscopy
  • Biopsy

Treatment of Esophagitis

Esophagitis can usually be relieved by treating the cause of the condition. Symptoms of esophagitis may be relieved through over the counter antacids or doctors may prescribe certain acid reducing medications. Esophagitis caused by infection may be treated with antibiotics. Lifestyle changes may also be effective and patients with esophagitis can take certain steps to help relieve their symptoms. Some of these steps may include:

  • Avoiding spicy foods
  • Avoiding alcohol and tobacco
  • Avoiding acidic foods
  • Taking small bites and chewing thoroughly
  • Waiting 2-3 hours to lie down after eating

In severe cases where esophagitis does not respond to other treatment, an endoscopy may be performed to remove an obstruction within the esophagus or surgery may be recommended to remove a damaged part of the esophagus.

While esophagitis is not normally a serious condition, it is important to seek medical treatment in order to prevent complications and permanent damage. If left untreated, esophagitis can lead to ulcers, scarring, or a tear in the esophagus.

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