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Esophagus – Function, Pain, Disorders, Treatment

Food moves from the mouth to stomach through esophagus. The walls of esophagus help move the food through rhythmic waves of contractions of muscles in a process known as peristalsis. A band of muscles known as upper and lower esophageal sphincter muscles help in the movement. The muscles will contract when esophagus is not in use so that food and acids from the stomach do not flow up to the mouth. When you are swallowing food, the muscles relax to allow food to get to the stomach.

There are many disorders of the esophagus including those related to propulsion and others related to injuries. There are also disorders related to obstruction of the esophagus as well as infections. As people age, the strength of esophageal muscles decreases and the tension of the sphincters also go down. This condition makes older people more susceptible to acid backflow from the stomach and this is called presbyesophagus.

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Movement of food from the mouth through to the stomach needs coordinated actions of the mouth such as propulsive waves, and relaxation of sphincters. If any of these actions are interrupted, it makes it difficult to swallow food. Some of the problems, which may be experienced if the esophageal muscles and the propulsive movements are not functioning properly, are such as dysphagia meaning difficult in swallowing.

Another problem is regurgitation, which means spitting up food from stomach without any forceful contractions or feeling of nausea. The interrupted of the coordinated muscle movement of the esophagus can also lead to vomiting and sucking of food into airways when inhaling.

Various disorders of the esophagus

Achalasia or cardiospasm

This is a condition, which affects the rhythmic contractions of esophagus. The contraction ability is reduced and the lower esophageal muscles do not relax normally. In addition, with this condition, the resting pressure of the lower muscles is increased. This condition may also be caused by nerve problems. When the nerves controlling the rhythmic contractions of esophagus are malfunctioning, this leads to contraction and relaxation problems.

Tumors may also lead to this condition. A person with achalasia may show different symptoms. One of the signs is difficulty in swallowing food both solids and liquids. There may also be pain in chest.  Regurgitation is also experienced. Coughing at night is another sign of this condition. A good number of patients suffering from achalasia will regurgitate undigested food while they are sleeping. In addition, they may also inhale food particles into their lungs, which can cause infections of the airways and lung abscess.

Treatment of achalasia is aimed at relieving the symptoms. There is no treatment, which can restore the peristalsis problem, and this is why it is quite challenging to correct the disorder of food movement through esophagus. Medication may be applied to relax and dilate the sphincter muscles. A small number of people with achalasia may develop esophageal rapture and this leads to inflammation. Surgery may be required to close the rapture in esophagus walls.

Esophageal Pouches

Another condition of the esophagus is the esophageal pouches or diverticula. These are abnormal protrusions in esophagus and can result to regurgitation or spitting of food without forceful contractions of muscles. The protrusions may also lead to swallowing difficulties. There are different types of diverticula of the esophageal and although they may be caused by different factors, they are all related to uncoordinated swallowing of food and muscle relaxation.

The most common causes of diverticula of the esophageal are spasm and achalasia. If the symptoms of this condition are severe, a surgical procedure may be performed to remove the pouch otherwise there is no treatment needed for mild symptoms.

Esophageal spasm

Esophageal spasm or pseudodiverticulosis is a condition that affects propulsive movements or peristalsis. The problem occurs when the normal propulsive contractions are interrupted and instead there is excessive muscular contraction (hyperdynamia) and nonpropulsive contractions. The lower esophageal sphincter may also open and close abnormally.

Although the cause of this condition is not well known, it is suspected that a nerve damage or malfunction creates the disorder. A person with this condition experiences chest pain and difficult in swallowing liquids particularly hot and cold fluids. Pain may also occur without exhibiting any swallowing difficulties.

The squeezing pain may often be confused with that pain caused by angina condition of the heart. Esophageal spasm is difficult to treat and most medication is aimed at relaxing the muscles of esophageal. Calcium channel blockers may be administered to relieve the symptoms.

Esophagus infections

Infections of the esophagus may occur mainly in people with impaired host defenses. The main causes of esophagus infections are Candida albicans, cytomegalovirus infection, and herpes simplex virus infections. The treatment of this condition depends on the underlying cause. If the cause of the infection is Candida albicans, an antifungal medication may be administered.

Injury of the esophagus can occur due to backflow of acids from the stomach and this may even cause bleeding. Erosive esophagitis occurs when the esophageal lining experiences inflammation and ulceration.

In essence, there are many disorders of the esophagus and they may be caused by different factors including infections, tumors, interruptions of the esophageal muscle contractions and injuries to the esophagus. Treatments are based on the cause of the problem.

Esophagus picture

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