Esophagitis is an inflammation of the lining of the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach. If left untreated, this condition can become very uncomfortable, causing problems with swallowing, ulcers, and scarring of the esophagus. In some instances, a condition known as Barrett's esophagus may develop, which is a risk factor for esophageal cancer.
Esophagitis is caused by an infection or irritation in the esophagus. An infection can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or diseases that weaken the immune system. Infections that cause esophagitis include:
Candida. This is a yeast infection of the esophagus caused by the same fungus that causes vaginal yeast infections. The infection develops in the esophagus when the body's immune system is weak, such as in people with diabetes or HIV. It is usually very treatable with antifungal drugs.
Herpes. Like Candida, this viral infection can develop in the esophagus when the body's immune system is weak. It is treatable with antiviral drugs.
Irritation leading to esophagitis may be caused by any of the following:
If you have any of these symptoms, you should contact your health care provider as soon as possible.
How Is Esophagitis Diagnosed?
Once your doctor has performed a thorough physical examination and reviewed your medical history, there are several tests that can be used to diagnose esophagitis. These include:
Upper endoscopy. A test in which a long, flexible lighted tube, called an endoscope, is used to view the esophagus.
Biopsy. During this test, a small sample of the esophageal tissue is removed and then sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope.
Upper GI series (or barium swallow). During this procedure, X-rays are taken of the esophagus after drinking a barium solution. Barium coats the lining of the esophagus and shows up white on an X-ray. This characteristic enables doctors to view certain abnormalities of the esophagus.