Esophageal Stricture | Digestive Health Program | Loyola Medicine

Esophageal Stricture

Overview and Facts about Esophageal Stricture

An esophageal stricture is a narrowing of the esophagus, which is the passageway from the throat to the stomach. Esophageal lining can be damaged by acid, chemical, or other irritants—which can lead to scar tissue formation and ultimately an obstruction of the esophagus.

When this occurs, it poses a great risk to your digestive health, as food has a more difficult time making it all the way to the stomach once you have eaten it. If you find yourself having progressive difficulty swallowing, it is important to call a doctor.

Symptoms and Signs of Esophageal Stricture

Signs and symptoms of esophageal stricture can include:

  • Coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath due to food getting in the lungs while regurgitating
  • Dehydration
  • Difficulty swallowing that gets worse over time, followed by chest pain and increased salivation
  • Unintended weight loss

Causes and Risk Factors of Esophageal Stricture

Causes for esophageal strictures can include:

  • Accidental injury to the esophagus
  • Cancer of the esophagus, which causes the same symptoms as esophageal stricture
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or a persistent reflux of gastric acid in the esophagus
  • Getting pills stuck in the throat, which can cause irritation in the esophagus
  • Scleroderma, which is linked to bad reflux and esophageal stricture
  • Swallowing chemicals that can wear away at the esophagus

Tests and Diagnosis of Esophageal Stricture

A review of your medical history and a physical exam are the first steps to confirming a diagnosis of esophageal stricture. Other diagnostic tests include:

  • Endoscopy, which involves inserting an illuminated scope into the esophagus through the mouth. Usually this is done under anesthesia.
  • X-ray, which involves swallowing barium to help create a sharp image of the esophagus on the X-ray for further evaluation

Treatment and Care for Esophageal Stricture

Your doctor will likely recommend some combination of the following treatment options and guidelines:

  • Avoiding solid foods until you can swallow without pain and difficulty
  • Certain medications that can stop GERD-related esophageal strictures from happening
  • Dilating the esophagus to widen the stricture
  • Having a feeding tube inserted so food can bypass the esophagus altogether
  • In the worst case scenario, the affected part of the esophagus may be removed and replaced with a part of the large intestine