People who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease may be at risk for esophageal strictures, a condition that can interfere with proper eating and swallowing.
What is an esophageal stricture?
An esophageal stricture is a gradual narrowing of the esophagus caused by scar tissue that builds up in the esophagus. Scar tissue develops when the esophagus is damaged or as a result of repeated inflammatory injury and healing. As the scar tissue builds up and the esophagus opening becomes more narrow, swallowing can become difficult.
Potential causes and risk factors of esophageal strictures include:
- Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
- Prolonged use of a nasogastric tube
- Ingestion of corrosive substances
- Viral or bacterial infections
Esophageal strictures are classified as benign or malignant. A benign stricture refers to a narrowing of the esophagus that is not associated with any form of cancer. Acid reflux disease is a common cause of benign esophageal strictures.
Symptoms and Treatment for Esophageal Stricture
The primary symptom of esophageal stricture is trouble swallowing, and this can lead to difficulty in maintaining proper hydration and nutrition. In severe cases, solid foods can become stuck in the throat and may lead to choking. Consuming meat may be especially problematic when this condition develops.
Other symptoms of esophageal stricture include:
- Weight loss
- Food becoming stuck in the throat
- Discomfort when swallowing
Often, someone with an esophageal stricture will have an ongoing sensation of there being a “lump” in their throat. If you have these symptoms, a doctor may use a barium swallow or endoscopy exam to diagnose an esophageal stricture.
Esophageal strictures can be treated by dilating the esophagus. Doctors may stretch the opening of esophagus by passing a dilator or air-filled balloon into the esophagus through an endoscope. After dilation, proton pump inhibitors may be used to prevent future esophageal strictures. In rare cases, surgical treatment is used to widen the esophagus or to prevent strictures from returning.