What is the esophagus?
The esophagus is the long narrow tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. When the esophagus does not function properly, patients often complain of difficulty swallowing, also known as dysphagia . There are many causes of dysphagia, including mechanical obstruction of the esophagus, poor muscular activity within the esophagus, or inflammation. When mechanical obstruction is present, stretching of the esophagus, called esophageal dilation, can help restore the patient’s ability to swallow normally.
What causes mechanical obstruction of the esophagus?
The most common cause of obstruction is a ring or stricture within the esophagus. This is usually made up of scar tissue, often caused by repeated reflux of acid contents from the stomach. Other less common causes of scar tissue occur in the esophagus, such as burns due to lye or acid ingestion. Tumors and cancers can cause the same symptoms. Achalasia is a rare condition where the lower esophagus will not relax properly to allow food and fluids to pass.
What is esophageal dilation?
There are several methods by which the esophagus can be stretched or dilated. Esophageal dilation involves gently opening the closed esophagus. Most interventions involve upper GI endoscopy, which is passage of a lighted endoscope through the mouth and into the esophagus. Once inside the esophagus, your doctor has a number of ways to dilate the esophagus, including plastic expanders or fluid filled balloons. Your physician will determine which method of dilation is most effective and safest for your particular problem. In rare instances, surgery or even injection of botox into the esophagus can be helpful.
When the esophagus is stretched open, complications are possible. Bleeding, perforation (tearing a hole in the esophagus), and aspiration (passage of secretions into the lungs) can occur. If you experience chest pain or difficulty breathing after dilation alert your physician immediately.
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