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The Esophagus
The esophagus is a tube that connects the mouth area to the stomach. It is a muscular organ which moves food down by contracting in a coordinated fashion from the upper to the lower esophagus. This contraction is called peristalsis.

The surface of the esophagus is made up of a squamous mucosa. The rest of the gastrointestinal tract is lined by a glandular mucosa.

There is a sphincter at the lower end of the esophagus which prevents stomach acid from coming up into the esophagus. This sphincter relaxes when food is passed through the esophagus allowing it to enter the stomach.

Diseases of the Esophagus

The following is a brief discussion of some problems that can arise in the esophagus. It is for information only and is not complete. You should always talk to your physician about the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease(GERD)- GERD is a problem with acid and other stomach contents refluxing up from the stomach into the esophagus. The acid can cause damage to the esophagus. This damage is called esophagitis. The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. Patients may also get nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and regurgitation symptoms. GERD may also cause problems with coughing, hoarseness, and aggravate asthma. It can be difficult to determine what symptoms are being caused by GERD and it requires medical evaluation to make a definitive diagnosis.

Barretts Esophagus(Intestinal Metaplasia of the Esophagus)- Barretts esophagus refers to an area of the esophagus which no longer has a squamous mucosa. The area has instead turned into a glandular mucosa. Specifically, if this area looks like small intestinal mucosa under the microscope it has some risk of turning into esophageal cancer. Barretts esophagus is generally thought to be related to GERD and damage caused by GERD although it may be a congenital finding in some patients. Patients with Barretts esophagus will typically have the symptoms of GERD. If you have Barretts esophagus it is very important to discuss this with your physician.

Esophogeal Cancer- Esophogeal cancer can come in many forms but has two major forms. The two major forms are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Smoking and alcohol use are the major risk factors for squamous cell carcinomas. Many, but not all adenocarcinomas come from areas of Barretts esophagus. Trouble swallowing, weight loss, and poor appetite are common in esophageal cancer patients. There may also be a history of GERD symptoms.

Esophogeal Strictures/ Schatzki Rings- Strictures and rings are narrow areas of the esophagus which may cause problems with passage of food. Many times they are caused by acid damage related to GERD. They can also be related to toxic ingestions, congenital problems, or autoimmune conditions. The most common symptom is trouble with swallowing and passing food into the stomach. This sensation is most commonly felt in the chest but can also be felt in the back of the throat. The problem can be present with all swallows or be intermittent. Any problems with swallowing should be evaluated by a physician.

Achalasia/Motility problems- There are a number of diseases which affect the normal peristalsis of the esophagus. The best characterized of these is esophageal achalasia. In achalasia the esophagus does not coordinate muscle contraction and the sphincter at the lower end of the esophagus does not relax. There are other disorders of esophageal contraction as well. In addition, many autoimmune and other diseases can affect esophageal function. Common symptoms of motility problems include chest pain, heartburn, and trouble swallowing. Motility problems can be difficult to diagnose and you should see a physician if you suspect you have a motility problem.

For more information on the esophagus and diseases related to the esophagus you can use the links on our links page

In addition you can check out the Wikipedia link for more information on the esophagus:

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