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Alternative names

Inflammation - esophagus


Esophagitis is inflammation, irritation, and swelling of the esophagus, the tube that leads from the back of the mouth to the stomach.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Esophagitis is frequently caused by backflow of acid-containing fluid from the stomach to the esophagus ( gastroesophageal reflux ). It can also be caused by vomiting , surgery, medications or hernias.

In patients with weakened immune systems caused by HIV and certain medications (such as corticosteroids), esophagitis may be caused by an infection of the esophagus. Esophageal infection can be caused by viruses (such as herpes or cytomegalovirus) and fungi or yeast (especially Candida infections).

The infection or irritation can cause the tissues to become inflamed and can occasionally cause ulcers. There may also be difficulty when swallowing, and a burning sensation in esophagus.

Related topics:

  • gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • esophagitis Candida
  • esophagitis CMV
  • esophagitis herpes


  • difficulty swallowing
  • painful swallowing
  • heartburn (acid reflux)
  • oral lesions (herpes)

Signs and tests

The doctor may perform the following tests:
  • Direct visualization of the esophagus with a scope ( endoscopy )
  • Barium swallow (x-ray using special dye to be swallowed )
  • Biopsy
  • Culture


Treatment depends on the specific cause. Reflux disease may require medications to reduce acid. Infections will require antibiotics.

Expectations (prognosis)

The disorders that cause esophagitis usually respond to treatment.


If untreated, esophagitis can cause severe discomfort, swallowing difficulty to the extent of causing malnutrition or dehydration , and eventual scarring of the esophagus. This scarring can lead to a stricture of the esophagus, and food or medications may not be able to pass through to the stomach.

Rarely, a condition called Barrett's esophagus can develop, which can lead to cancer of the esophagus.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms that suggest esophagitis.

Update Date: 11/9/2002

Andrew J. Muir, M.D., M.H.S., Division of Gastroenterology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT