If your esophagus (the muscular tube between the mouth and the stomach) is fully functional, you’ve probably never thought about how usefulness it is. When our bodies are working properly, we have a tendency to take them for granted.
The esophagus is at the beginning of the digestive system, and it allows food and drink to pass on to your stomach and intestines, where the bulk of digestion happens.
What are esophageal strictures?
An esophageal stricture is the abnormal narrowing of the esophagus. A typical esophagus is about 30 millimeters in diameter, but an esophageal stricture can cause this to narrow to only 13 millimeters or less, making it difficult and/or painful to swallow.
Are esophageal strictures common?
Thankfully, the answer is no, esophageal strictures are not common. While they can occur in men and women of any age, esophageal strictures most often occur in people over the age of 40.
What does esophageal stricture feel like?
The symptoms of esophageal stricture include difficulty swallowing (dysphagia); feeling like food or liquid is getting stuck in your throat; recurrent choking and/or coughing episodes; regurgitation; a burning sensation in the chest, throat, or neck; and dehydration or weight loss.
What causes esophageal strictures?
There are several conditions or treatment methods that can lead to scarring or inflammation of the throat, causing esophageal strictures:
GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease):
This is the cause of most esophageal strictures. With GERD, the intersection between the stomach and the esophagus (the lower esophageal sphincter or LES) malfunctions, allowing stomach acid to escape into the esophagus.
When the esophagus is regularly exposed to stomach acid, it can lead to esophageal scarring, which can cause narrowing of the esophagus (stricture).
This is a chronic immune system problem similar to an allergic reaction that causes the lining of the esophagus to become inflamed.
While this is rare, esophageal tumors can grow in the lining of the esophagus, causing a narrowing of the passageway. These symptoms usually develop rapidly, whereas benign strictures typically develop gradually.
Radiation treatment in the neck or chest:
Radiation is often used to treat cancer cells, but it can also damage healthy cells in the process, sometimes causing stricture.
Occasionally, the consumption of extremely hot foods or liquids can damage the esophagus, as can ingestion of a caustic substance (such as household cleaning products).
Medications that may cause esophageal stricture are NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), potassium chloride, and certain antibiotics.
How are esophageal stricture diagnosed?
If a gastroenterologist suspects that you suffer from an esophageal stricture, they will most likely recommend a barium swallow test, an endoscopic ultrasound, or an upper GI endoscopy to confirm the diagnosis. During an upper GI, a physician can not only evaluate the condition of the esophagus, but also take a biopsy of any irregular areas, which is helpful in diagnosing a stricture.
Is esophageal stricture curable?
Esophageal strictures are absolutely treatable. The majority of esophageal strictures (70%-80% of adult cases) are benign, and even if the stricture is malignant (i.e., cancerous), treatment options exist to ease symptoms.
How is esophageal stricture treated?
The best treatment for an esophageal stricture depends on the cause. Treatment options include esophageal dilation (which is the most common method), stent placement, and surgical intervention. If the stricture is caused by GERD, treatment may also involve acid reducers or a change in diet.
Esophageal dilation stretches out the narrow portion of the esophagus. This may be achievable in a single treatment session, but severe strictures may require repeated treatments before the desired results are achieved.
A stent is a device that can be implanted to keep a tube in the body open, such as a blood vessel or the esophagus in this instance. Although this is not a common treatment method, it may be applicable in some cases.
At the Digestive Health Centers we believe that in the midst of the COVID pandemic, staying healthy is at the forefront of our minds. Contact us today to receive advanced endoscopic treatment from a fellowship trained, board certified gastroenterologist.
If you’re worried you may have an esophageal stricture, don’t wait! Although uncommon, esophageal stricture should be diagnosed and treated promptly for the best results.