Reflux esophagitis describes inflammation that damages the tissue of the esophagus, the tube that delivers food from your mouth to your stomach. It can cause painful, difficult swallowing and chest pain. Reflux esophagitis is caused by stomach acid backing up into the esophagus and breaking down the esophageal tissue over time. If left untreated, esophagitis may cause permanent changes to the structure and function of the esophagus.
Symptoms of reflux esophagitis include:
- Difficult swallowing (dysphagia)
- Painful swallowing (odynophagia)
- Chest pain when eating
- Swallowed food becoming stuck in the esophagus (food impaction)
- Stomach pain
- Regurgitation of saliva (water brash)
- Decreased appetite
Risk factors for reflux esophagitis include obesity, smoking, pregnancy, and hiatal hernia. These are also risk factors for GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Reflux esophagitis is basically a complication that can arise from GERD-a disease characterized by frequent acid reflux and heartburn-that’s left untreated.
If reflux esophagitis is not treated directly, it can cause changes in the structure and function of the esophagus. The opening of the esophagus may narrow or rings of abnormal tissue may develop in the lining of the esophagus. Additionally, reflux esophagitis can lead to a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus, where the cells lining the esophagus are changed and present an increased risk for esophageal cancer.
Treatment Options for Reflux Esophagitis:
Reflux esophagitis is an inflammation of the esophagus that’s caused by persistent exposure to stomach acid as a result of acid reflux. Treatment of reflux esophagitis involves treating the symptoms and complications as well as addressing the underlying cause of frequent reflux.
- Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI) Therapy. PPIs are medications that block acid production in the stomach, which should decrease the frequency and severity of acid reflux. Using proton pump inhibitors to reduce stomach acid can allow time for damaged esophageal tissue to heal.
- Fundoplication. This is a surgical procedure in which a portion of the stomach is wrapped around the lower esophageal sphincter, which is the valve between the esophagus and the stomach. The goal of this surgery is to strengthen the sphincter in order to prevent stomach acid from making its way up into the esophagus. Fundoplication may also correct problems related to a hiatal hernia.
- Esophageal Dilation. A gastroenterologist may expand, or dilate, the esophagus. This is generally done with an endoscopic device and a tube or balloon that gradually widens the esophagus. This procedure is only done when the narrowing of the esophagus is very severe or food has become lodged in the esophagus.
In addition to medical intervention, you may be able to lessen the symptoms of reflux esophagitis with lifestyle modifications. Avoid foods that tend to cause reflux (including tomato-based foods, alcohol, and caffeine), lose weight, and give up smoking.