Esophagitis is a condition in which the lining of the esophagus becomes swollen, inflamed, or irritated. The esophagus is the tube that leads from your mouth to the stomach. It is also called the food pipe.
Esophagitis is often caused by stomach fluid that flows back into the food pipe. The fluid contains acid, which irritates the tissue. This problem is called gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). An autoimmune disorder called eosinophilic esophagitis also causes this condition.
The following increase your risk for this condition:
- Alcohol use
- Cigarette smoking
- Surgery or radiation to the chest (for example, treatment for lung cancer)
- Taking certain medicines such as alendronate, doxycycline, ibandronate, risedronate, tetracycline, potassium tablets, and vitamin C, without drinking plenty of water
- Lying down after eating a large meal
People who have a weakened immune system may develop infections. Infections may lead to swelling of the food pipe. Infection may be due to:
- Fungi or yeast (most often Candida)
- Viruses, such as herpes or cytomegalovirus
The infection or irritation may cause the food pipe to become inflamed. Sores called ulcers may form.
Symptoms may include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Painful swallowing
- Heartburn (acid reflux)
- Sore throat
Treatment depends on the cause. Common treatment options are:
- Medicines that reduce stomach acid in case of reflux disease
- Antibiotics to treat infections
- Medicines and diet changes to treat eosinophilic esophagitis
- Medicines to coat the lining of the food pipe to treat damage related to pills
You should stop taking medicines that damage the lining of the esophagus. Take your pills with plenty of water. Avoid lying down immediately after taking the pill.
Most of the time, the disorders that cause swelling and inflammation of the food pipe, respond to treatment.
If not treated, this condition may cause severe discomfort. Scarring (stricture) of the food pipe may develop. This can cause swallowing problems.
A condition called Barrett esophagus (BE) can develop after years of GERD. Rarely, BE may lead to cancer of the food pipe.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have:
- Frequent symptoms of esophagitis
- Difficulty swallowing
Inflammation - esophagus; Erosive esophagitis; Ulcerative esophagitis; Eosinophilic esophagitis
Falk GW, Katzka DA. Diseases of the esophagus. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 129.
Graman PS. Esophagitis. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 97.
Richter JE, Vaezi MF. Gastroesophageal reflux disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 46.
Review Date 7/15/2020
Updated by: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.