- What is esophagitis?
- Symptoms of esophagitis
- Causes of esophagitis
- Risk factors for esophagitis
- Tests and diagnosis of esophagitis
- Treatments for esophagitis
- Possible complications of esophagitis
Fast facts on esophagitis
Here are some key points about esophagitis. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Esophagitis affects 2-5% of people aged 55 or older.
- Prognosis for esophagitis is normally good.
- Symptoms include abdominal pain and difficulty swallowing.
- Esophagitis can be caused by allergies.
- Sometimes the illness is caused by not swallowing medication with enough water.
- Being overweight increases the risk of esophagitis.
- Sometimes a barium X-ray might be used to diagnose the condition.
- Depending on the cause of esophagitis there are various possible medications.
What is esophagitis?
Esophagitis is an inflammation of the esophagus, the tube between the mouth and stomach.
In some cases, untreated esophagitis can lead to alterations in the structure and function of the esophagus.
According to a review of the Swedish National Register, esophagitis rates (diagnosed by endoscopy) are less than 5% among people aged 55 years or older. Other studies have estimated the prevalence in the same age group at around 2%.
If diagnosed rapidly and treated properly, the prognosis for esophagitis is usually good. Prognosis also depends on the underlying disease process.
Symptoms of esophagitisA symptom is something the patient feels and describes, such as dizziness, pain, or anxiety. A sign is something other people, apart from the patient, can also detect, such as a rash, pallor, or weight loss.
These are both the signs and symptoms most commonly linked to esophagitis:
- Abdominal pain
- Adynophagia - pain when swallowing
- Dysphagia - difficulty swallowing
- Food gets stuck in the esophagus
- Lack of appetite
- Nausea, and possibly vomiting
- Pain when eating, heartburn
- Mouth sores
- Feeding difficulties, and subsequently possible failure to thrive in young children and babies. At this age, most patients are too young to describe their symptoms
Causes of esophagitisSeveral conditions can cause esophagitis. It is most commonly caused by GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, GORD in British English). Sometimes the condition may be caused by more than one factor.
Esophagitis may be caused by:
- GERD - known as reflux esophagitis. There is a valve which stops acids from seeping back up into the esophagus, it is called the esophageal sphincter. If it is faulty - does not flap closed and open properly, stomach contents can reflux; make their way back up into the esophagus, effectively GERD. GERD can irritate the esophagus, leading to esophagitis.
- Allergies - they can cause eosinophilic esophagitis, triggered by an allergic reaction, usually to one or two foods. An eosinophil is a type of white blood cell (leukocyte). When there is an allergic reaction or a parasitic infection, the numbers of eosinophils in the blood usually rise. If eosinophils crowd the esophagus it will become inflamed.
- Some medications - known as drug-induced esophagitis - if in contact with the esophagus lining for too long, some oral medications can cause inflammation. This can happen if an oral medication is swallowed without washing it down with enough water. Residue from the tablet, pill or capsule may stay in the esophagus. Most commonly, it can occur with some painkillers, antibiotics, drugs to treat potassium deficiency (potassium chloride), and certain drugs for the treatment for osteoporosis, such as Fosamax (alendronate).
- Some infections - known as infectious esophagitis. People who are immunocompromised (have weakened immune systems) are more susceptible. Infectious esophagitis can be caused by candida (esophageal candidiasis), herpes simplex, and cytomegalovirus. With the help of endoscopy, a trained doctor (with the help of a pathologist) can identify the source of the infection.
- Other causes - such as alcohol abuse, radiation therapy, nasogastric tubes, and chemical injury from ingested alkaline or acid solutions can also cause esophagitis. Chemical injury may occur if a child drinks something from a kitchen cupboard they shouldn't, or an adult when swallowing caustic substances during a suicide attempt.
On the next page, we look at risk factors associated with esophagitis, how the condition is diagnosed and how esophagitis can be treated.