Esophagus Disorders

The esophagus is the tube that carries food, liquids and saliva from your mouth to the stomach. You may not be aware of your esophagus until you swallow something too large, too hot or too cold. You may also become aware of it when something is wrong.

The most common problem with the esophagus is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It happens when a band of muscle at the end of your esophagus does not close properly. This allows stomach contents to leak back, or reflux, into the esophagus and irritate it. Over time, GERD can cause damage to the esophagus. Other problems include heartburn and cancer.

Treatment depends on the problem. Some get better with over-the-counter medicines or changes in diet. Others may need prescription medicines or surgery.

GERD

Also called: Gastroesophageal reflux disease 

Your esophagus is the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) happens when a muscle at the end of your esophagus does not close properly. This allows stomach contents to leak back, or reflux, into the esophagus and irritate it.Illustration of the upper gastrointestinal system

You may feel a burning in the chest or throat called heartburn. Sometimes, you can taste stomach fluid in the back of the mouth. If you have these symptoms more than twice a week, you may have GERD. You can also have GERD without having heartburn. Your symptoms could include a dry cough, asthma symptoms, or trouble swallowing.

Anyone, including infants and children, can have GERD. If not treated, it can lead to more serious health problems. In some cases, you might need medicines or surgery. However, many people can improve their symptoms by

  • Avoiding alcohol and spicy, fatty or acidic foods that trigger heartburn
  • Eating smaller meals
  • Not eating close to bedtime
  • Losing weight if needed
  • Wearing loose-fitting clothes

Heartburn

Heartburn is a painful burning feeling in your chest or throat. It happens when stomach acid backs up into your esophagus, the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach.Illustration of the nasal cavity, epiglottis, esophagus and stomach

If you have heartburn more than twice a week, you may have GERD. But you can have GERD without having heartburn.

Pregnancy, certain foods, alcohol, and some medications can bring on heartburn. Treating heartburn is important because over time reflux can damage the esophagus.

Over-the-counter medicines may help. If the heartburn continues, you may need prescription medicines or surgery.

If you have other symptoms such as crushing chest pain, it could be a heart attack. Get help immediately.