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Esophagitis (uh-sof-uh-JIE-tis) is inflammation that may damage tissues of the esophagus, the muscular tube that delivers food from your mouth to your stomach.
Esophagitis can cause painful, difficult swallowing and chest pain. Causes of esophagitis include stomach acids backing up into the esophagus, infection, oral medications and allergies.
Treatment for esophagitis depends on the underlying cause and the severity of tissue damage. If left untreated, esophagitis can damage the lining of the esophagus and interfere with its normal function, which is to move food and liquid from your mouth to your stomach. Esophagitis can also lead to complications such as scarring or narrowing of the esophagus, and difficulty swallowing.
Common signs and symptoms of esophagitis include:
In infants and young children, particularly those too young to explain their discomfort or pain, signs of esophagitis may include:
Most signs and symptoms of esophagitis can be caused by a number of different conditions affecting the digestive system. See your doctor if signs or symptoms:
Get emergency care if you:
Esophagitis is generally categorized by the conditions that cause it. In some cases, more than one factor may be causing esophagitis.
A valve-like structure called the lower esophageal sphincter usually keeps the acidic contents of the stomach out of the esophagus. If this valve opens when it shouldn’t or doesn’t close properly, the contents of the stomach may back up into the esophagus (gastroesophageal reflux). Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which this backflow of acid is a frequent or ongoing problem. A complication of GERD is chronic inflammation and tissue damage in the esophagus.
Eosinophils (e-o-SIN-o-fils) are white blood cells that play a key role in allergic reactions. Eosinophilic esophagitis occurs with a high concentration of these white blood cells in the esophagus, most likely in response to an allergy-causing agent (allergen) or acid reflux or both.
In many cases, this type of esophagitis may be triggered by foods such as milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, beans, rye and beef. However, conventional allergy testing does not reliably identify these culprit foods.
People with eosinophilic esophagitis may have other nonfood allergies. For example, sometimes inhaled allergens, such as pollen, may be the cause.
Lymphocytic esophagitis (LE) is an uncommon esophageal condition in which there are an increased number of lymphocytes in the lining of the esophagus. LE may be related to eosinophilic esophagitis or to GERD.
Several oral medications may cause tissue damage if they remain in contact with the lining of the esophagus for too long. For example, if you swallow a pill with little or no water, the pill itself or residue from the pill may remain in the esophagus. Drugs that have been linked to esophagitis include:
A bacterial, viral or fungal infection in tissues of the esophagus may cause esophagitis. Infectious esophagitis is relatively rare and occurs most often in people with poor immune system function, such as people with HIV/AIDS or cancer.
A fungus normally present in the mouth called Candida albicans is a common cause of infectious esophagitis. Such infections are often associated with poor immune system function, diabetes, cancer, or the use of steroid or antibiotic medications.
Risk factors for esophagitis vary depending on the different causes of the disorder.
Factors that increase the risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) — and therefore are factors in reflux esophagitis — include the following:
A number of foods may worsen symptoms of GERD or reflux esophagitis:
Risk factors for eosinophilic esophagitis, or allergy-related esophagitis, may include:
Factors that may increase the risk of drug-induced esophagitis are generally related to issues that prevent quick and complete passage of a pill into the stomach. These factors include:
Risk factors for infectious esophagitis often relate to medications, such as steroids and antibiotics. People with diabetes also are at increased risk of candida esophagitis in particular.
Other causes of infectious esophagitis may relate to poor immune system function. This may be due to an immune disorder, HIV/AIDS or certain cancers. Also, certain cancer treatments and drugs that block immune system reactions to transplanted organs (immunosuppressants) may increase the risk of infectious esophagitis.
Left untreated, esophagitis can lead to changes in the structure of the esophagus. Possible complications include:
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