The esophagus (American English) or oesophagus (British English) (/ɪˈsɒfəɡəs/), commonly known as the food pipe or gullet (gut), is an organ in vertebrates through which food passes, aided by peristaltic contractions, from the pharynx to the stomach. The esophagus is a fibromuscular tube, about 25 centimetres long in adults, which travels behind the trachea and heart, passes through the diaphragm and empties into the uppermost region of the stomach. During swallowing, the epiglottis tilts backwards to prevent food from going down the larynx and lungs. The word esophagus is the Greek word οἰσοφάγος oisophagos, meaning "gullet".

The wall of the oesophagus from the lumen outwards consists of mucosa, submucosa (connective tissue), layers of muscle fibers between layers of fibrous tissue, and an outer layer of connective tissue. The mucosa is a stratified squamous epithelium of around three layers of squamous cells, which contrasts to the single layer of columnar cells of the stomach. The transition between these two types of epithelium is visible as a zig-zag line. Most of the muscle is smooth muscle although striated muscle predominates in its upper third. It has two muscular rings or sphincters in its wall, one at the top and one at the bottom. The lower sphincter helps to prevent reflux of acidic stomach content. The oesophagus has a rich blood supply and venous drainage. Its smooth muscle is innervated by involuntary nerves (sympathetic nerves via the sympathetic trunk and parasympathetic nerves via the vagus nerve) and in addition voluntary nerves (lower motor neurons) which are carried in the vagus nerve to innervate its striated muscle.

The oesophagus may be affected by gastric reflux, cancer, prominent dilated blood vessels called varices that can bleed heavily, tears, constrictions, and disorders of motility. Diseases may cause difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), painful swallowing (odynophagia), chest pain, or cause no symptoms at all. Clinical investigations include X-rays when swallowing barium, endoscopy, and CT scans. Surgically, the oesophagus is very difficult to access.[1]

Tractus intestinalis esophagus
The digestive tract, with the esophagus marked
SystemPart of the digestive system
Arteryoesophageal arteries
Veinoesophageal veins
NerveSympathetic trunk, vagus
Anatomical terminology


The esophagus is one of the upper parts of the digestive system. There are taste buds on its upper part.[2] It begins at the back of the mouth, passing downwards through the rear part of the mediastinum, through the diaphragm, and into the stomach. In humans, the esophagus generally starts around the level of the sixth cervical vertebra behind the cricoid cartilage of the trachea, enters the diaphragm at about the level of the tenth thoracic vertebra, and ends at the cardia of the stomach, at the level of the eleventh thoracic vertebra.[3] The esophagus is usually about 25 cm (10 in) in length.[4]

Many blood vessels serve the esophagus, with blood supply varying along its course. The upper parts of the esophagus and the upper esophageal sphincter receive blood from the inferior thyroid artery, the parts of the esophagus in the thorax from the bronchial arteries and branches directly from the thoracic aorta, and the lower parts of the esophagus and the lower esophageal sphincter receive blood from the left gastric artery and the left inferior phrenic artery.[5][6] The venous drainage also differs along the course of the esophagus. The upper and middle parts of the esophagus drain into the azygos and hemiazygos veins, and blood from the lower part drains into the left gastric vein. All these veins drain into the superior vena cava, with the exception of the left gastric vein, which is a branch of the portal vein.[5] Lymphatically, the upper third of the esophagus drains into the deep cervical lymph nodes, the middle into the superior and posterior mediastinal lymph nodes, and the lower esophagus into the gastric and celiac lymph nodes. This is similar to the lymphatic drainage of the abdominal structures that arise from the foregut, which all drain into the celiac nodes.[5]

Relations of the aorta, trachea, esophagus and other heart structures
The esophagus (yellow) passes behind the trachea and the heart.
The position and relation of the esophagus in the cervical region and in the posterior mediastinum. Seen from behind.

The upper esophagus lies at the back of the mediastinum behind the trachea, adjoining along the tracheoesophageal stripe, and in front of the erector spinae muscles and the vertebral column. The lower esophagus lies behind the heart and curves in front of the thoracic aorta. From the bifurcation of the trachea downwards, the esophagus passes behind the right pulmonary artery, left main bronchus, and left atrium. At this point it passes through the diaphragm.[3]

The thoracic duct, which drains the majority of the body's lymph, passes behind the esophagus, curving from lying behind the esophagus on the right in the lower part of the esophagus, to lying behind the esophagus on the left in the upper esophagus. The esophagus also lies in front of parts of the hemiazygos veins and the intercostal veins on the right side. The vagus nerve divides and covers the esophagus in a plexus.[3]

Illu esophagus
The esophagus is constricted in three places.

The esophagus has four points of constriction. When a corrosive substance, or a solid object is swallowed, it is most likely to lodge and damage one of these four points. These constrictions arise from particular structures that compress the esophagus. These constrictions are:[7]


The esophagus is surrounded at the top and bottom by two muscular rings, known respectively as the upper esophageal sphincter and the lower esophageal sphincter.[3] These sphincters act to close the esophagus when food is not being swallowed. The esophageal sphincters are functional but not anatomical, meaning that they act as sphincters but do not have distinct thickenings like other sphincters.[8]

The upper esophageal sphincter surrounds the upper part of the esophagus. It consists of skeletal muscle but is not under voluntary control. Opening of the upper esophageal sphincter is triggered by the swallowing reflex. The primary muscle of the upper esophageal sphincter is the cricopharyngeal part of the inferior pharyngeal constrictor.[9]

The lower esophageal sphincter, or gastroesophageal sphincter, surrounds the lower part of the esophagus at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach.[8] It is also called the cardiac sphincter or cardioesophageal sphincter, named from the adjacent part of the stomach, the cardia. Dysfunction of the gastroesophageal sphincter causes gastroesophageal reflux, which causes heartburn and if it happens often enough, can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease, with damage of the esophageal mucosa.[10]

Nerve supply

The esophagus is innervated by the vagus nerve and the cervical and thoracic sympathetic trunk.[5] The vagus nerve has a parasympathetic function, supplying the muscles of the esophagus and stimulating glandular contraction. Two sets of nerve fibers travel in the vagus nerve to supply the muscles. The upper striated muscle, and upper esophageal sphincter, are supplied by neurons with bodies in the nucleus ambiguus, whereas fibers that supply the smooth muscle and lower esophageal sphincter have bodies situated in the dorsal motor nucleus.[5] The vagus nerve plays the primary role in initiating peristalsis.[11] The sympathetic trunk has a sympathetic function. It may enhance the function of the vagus nerve, increasing peristalsis and glandular activity, and causing sphincter contraction. In addition, sympathetic activation may relax the muscle wall and cause blood vessel constriction.[5] Sensation along the esophagus is supplied by both nerves, with gross sensation being passed in the vagus nerve and pain passed up the sympathetic trunk.[3]

Gastro-esophageal junction

The gastro-esophageal junction (also known as the esophagogastric junction) is the junction between the esophagus and the stomach, at the lower end of the esophagus.[12] The pink color of the esophageal mucosa contrasts to the deeper red of the gastric mucosa,[5][13] and the mucosal transition can be seen as an irregular zig-zag line, which is often called the z-line.[14] Histological examination reveals abrupt transition between the stratified squamous epithelium of the esophagus and the simple columnar epithelium of the stomach.[15] Normally, the cardia of the stomach is immediately distal to the z-line[16] and the z-line coincides with the upper limit of the gastric folds of the cardia; however, when the anatomy of the mucosa is distorted in Barrets esophagus the true gastro-eshophageal junction can be identified by the upper limit of the gastric folds rather than the mucosal transition.[17] The functional location of the lower oesophageal sphincter is generally situated about 3 cm (1.2 in) below the z-line.[5]


Tinción hematoxilina-eosina
H&E stain of a biopsy of the normal esophageal wall, showing the stratified squamous cell epithelium of the esophageal wall.
Gastro-esophageal jxn
Histological section of the gastro-esophageal junction, with a black arrow indicating the junction.

The human esophagus has a mucous membrane consisting of a tough stratified squamous epithelium without keratin, a smooth lamina propria, and a muscularis mucosae.[5] The epithelium of the esophagus has a relatively rapid turnover, and serves a protective function against the abrasive effects of food. In many animals the epithelium contains a layer of keratin, representing a coarser diet.[18] There are two types of glands, with mucus-secreting esophageal glands being found in the submucosa, and esophageal cardiac glands, similar to cardiac glands of the stomach, located in the lamina propria and most frequent in the terminal part of the organ.[18][19] The mucus from the glands gives a good protection to the lining.[20] The submucosa also contains the submucosal plexus, a network of nerve cells that is part of the enteric nervous system.[18]

The muscular layer of the esophagus has two types of muscle. The upper third of the esophagus contains striated muscle, the lower third contains smooth muscle, and the middle third contains a mixture of both.[5] Muscle is arranged in two layers: one in which the muscle fibers run longitudinal to the esophagus, and the other in which the fibers encircle the esophagus. These are separated by the myenteric plexus, a tangled network of nerve fibers involved in the secretion of mucus and in peristalsis of the smooth muscle of the esophagus. The outermost layer of the esophagus is the adventitia in most of its length, with the abdominal part being covered in serosa. This makes it distinct from many other structures in the gastrointestinal tract that only have a serosa.[5]


In early embryogenesis, the esophagus develops from the endodermal primitive gut tube. The ventral part of the embryo abuts the yolk sac. During the second week of embryological development, as the embryo grows, it begins to surround parts of the sac. The enveloped portions form the basis for the adult gastrointestinal tract.[21] The sac is surrounded by a network of vitelline arteries. Over time, these arteries consolidate into the three main arteries that supply the developing gastrointestinal tract: the celiac artery, superior mesenteric artery, and inferior mesenteric artery. The areas supplied by these arteries are used to define the midgut, hindgut and foregut.[21]

The surrounded sac becomes the primitive gut. Sections of this gut begin to differentiate into the organs of the gastrointestinal tract, such as the esophagus, stomach, and intestines.[21] The esophagus develops as part of the foregut tube.[21] The innervation of the esophagus develops from the pharyngeal arches.[3]



Food is ingested through the mouth and when swallowed passes first into the pharynx and then into the esophagus. The esophagus is thus one of the first components of the digestive system and the gastrointestinal tract. After food passes through the esophagus, it enters the stomach.[8] When food is being swallowed, the epiglottis moves backward to cover the larynx, preventing food from entering the trachea. At the same time, the upper esophageal sphincter relaxes, allowing a bolus of food to enter. Peristaltic contractions of the esophageal muscle push the food down the esophagus. These rhythmic contractions occur both as a reflex response to food that is in the mouth, and also as a response to the sensation of food within the esophagus itself. Along with peristalsis, the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes.[8]

Reducing gastric reflux

The stomach produces gastric acid, a strongly acidic mixture consisting of hydrochloric acid (HCl) and potassium and sodium salts to enable food digestion. Constriction of the upper and lower esophageal sphincters help to prevent reflux (backflow) of gastric contents and acid into the esophagus, protecting the esophageal mucosa. In addition, the acute angle of His and the lower crura of the diaphragm helps this sphincteric action.[8][22]

Gene and protein expression

About 20,000 protein-coding genes are expressed in human cells and nearly 70% of these genes are expressed in the normal esophagus.[23][24] Some 250 of these genes are more specifically expressed in the esophagus with less than 50 genes being highly specific. The corresponding esophagus-specific proteins are mainly involved in squamous differentiation such as keratins KRT13, KRT4 and KRT6C. Other specific proteins that help lubricate the inner surface of esophagus are mucins such as MUC21 and MUC22. Many genes with elevated expression are also shared with skin and other organs that are composed of squamous epithelia.[25]

Clinical significance

The main conditions affecting the esophagus are described here. For a more complete list, see esophageal disease.


Inflammation of the esophagus is known as esophagitis. Reflux of gastric acids from the stomach, infection, substances ingested (for example, corrosives), some medications (such as bisphosphonates), and food allergies can all lead to esophagitis. Esophageal candidiasis is an infection of the yeast Candida albicans that may occur when a person is immunocompromised. As of 2014 the cause of some forms of esophagitis, such as eosinophilic esophagitis, is not known. Esophagitis can cause painful swallowing and is usually treated by managing the cause of the esophagitis - such as managing reflux or treating infection.[4]

Barrett's esophagus

Prolonged esophagitis, particularly from gastric reflux, is one factor thought to play a role in the development of Barrett's esophagus. In this condition, there is metaplasia of the lining of the lower esophagus, which changes from stratified squamous epithelia to simple columnar epithelia. Barrett's esophagus is thought to be one of the main contributors to the development of esophageal cancer.[4]


There are two main types of cancer of the esophagus. Squamous cell carcinoma is a carcinoma that can occur in the squamous cells lining the esophagus. This type is much more common in China and Iran. The other main type is an adenocarcinoma that occurs in the glands or columnar tissue of the esophagus. This is most common in developed countries in those with Barrett's esophagus, and occurs in the cuboidal cells.[4]

In its early stages, esophageal cancer may not have any symptoms at all. When severe, esophageal cancer may eventually cause obstruction of the esophagus, making swallowing of any solid foods very difficult and causing weight loss. The progress of the cancer is staged using a system that measures how far into the esophageal wall the cancer has invaded, how many lymph nodes are affected, and whether there are any metastases in different parts of the body. Esophageal cancer is often managed with radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and may also be managed by partial surgical removal of the esophagus. Inserting a stent into the esophagus, or inserting a nasogastric tube, may also be used to ensure that a person is able to digest enough food and water. As of 2014, the prognosis for esophageal cancer is still poor, so palliative therapy may also be a focus of treatment.[4]


Esophageal varices are swollen twisted branches of the azygous vein in the lower third of the esophagus. These blood vessels anastomose (join up) with those of the portal vein when portal hypertension develops.[26] These blood vessels are engorged more than normal, and in the worst cases may partially obstruct the esophagus. These blood vessels develop as part of a collateral circulation that occurs to drain blood from the abdomen as a result of portal hypertension, usually as a result of liver diseases such as cirrhosis.[4]:941–42 This collateral circulation occurs because the lower part of the esophagus drains into the left gastric vein, which is a branch of the portal vein. Because of the extensive venous plexus that exists between this vein and other veins, if portal hypertension occurs, the direction of blood drainage in this vein may reverse, with blood draining from the portal venous system, through the plexus. Veins in the plexus may engorge and lead to varices.[5][6]

Esophageal varices often do not have symptoms until they rupture. A ruptured varix is considered a medical emergency, because varices can bleed a lot. A bleeding varix may cause a person to vomit blood, or suffer shock. To deal with a ruptured varix, a band may be placed around the bleeding blood vessel, or a small amount of a clotting agent may be injected near the bleed. A surgeon may also try to use a small inflatable balloon to apply pressure to stop the wound. IV fluids and blood products may be given in order to prevent hypovolemia from excess blood loss.[4]

Motility disorders

Several disorders affect the motility of food as it travels down the esophagus. This can cause difficult swallowing, called dysphagia, or painful swallowing, called odynophagia. Achalasia refers to a failure of the lower esophageal sphincter to relax properly, and generally develops later in life. This leads to progressive enlargement of the esophagus, and possibly eventual megaesophagus. A nutcracker esophagus refers to swallowing that can be extremely painful. Diffuse esophageal spasm is a spasm of the esophagus that can be one cause of chest pain. Such referred pain to the wall of the upper chest is quite common in esophageal conditions.[27] Sclerosis of the esophagus, such as with systemic sclerosis or in CREST syndrome may cause hardening of the walls of the esophagus and interfere with peristalsis.[4]


Esophageal strictures are usually benign and typically develop after a person has had reflux for many years. Other strictures may include esophageal webs (which can also be congenital) and damage to the esophagus by radiotherapy, corrosive ingestion, or eosinophilic esophagitis. A Schatzki ring is fibrosis at the gastro-esophageal junction. Strictures may also develop in chronic anemia, and Plummer-Vinson syndrome.[4]

Two of the most common congenital malformations affecting the esophagus are an esophageal atresia where the oesophagus ends in a blind sac instead of connecting to the stomach; and an esophageal fistula – an abnormal connection between the esophagus and the trachea.[28] Both of these conditions usually occur together.[28] These are found in about 1 in 3500 births.[29] Half of these cases may be part of a syndrome where other abnormalities are also present, particularly of the heart or limbs. The other cases occur singly.[30]


Mid esophageal mass
A mass seen during an endoscopy and an ultrasound of the mass conducted during the endoscopy session.

An X-ray of swallowed barium may be used to reveal the size and shape of the esophagus, and the presence of any masses. The esophagus may also be imaged using a flexible camera inserted into the esophagus, in a procedure called an endoscopy. If an endoscopy is used on the stomach, the camera will also have to pass through the esophagus. During an endoscopy, a biopsy may be taken. If cancer of the esophagus is being investigated, other methods, including a CT scan, may also be used.[4]


The word esophagus (British English: oesophagus), comes from the Greek: οἰσοφάγος (oisophagos) meaning gullet. It derives from two roots (eosin) to carry and (phagos) to eat.[31] The use of the word oesophagus, has been documented in anatomical literature since at least the time of Hippocrates, who noted that "the oesophagus ... receives the greatest amount of what we consume." [32] Its existence in other animals and its relationship with the stomach was documented by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (AD23–AD79),[33] and the peristaltic contractions of the esophagus have been documented since at least the time of Galen.[34]

The first attempt at surgery on the esophagus focused in the neck, and was conducted in dogs by Theodore Billroth in 1871. In 1877 Czerny carried out surgery in people. By 1908, an operation had been performed by Voeckler to remove the esophagus, and in 1933 the first surgical removal of parts of the lower esophagus, (to control esophageal cancer), had been conducted.[35]

The Nissen fundoplication, in which the stomach is wrapped around the lower esophageal sphincter to stimulate its function and control reflux, was first conducted by Rudolph Nissen in 1955.[35]

Other animals


In tetrapods, the pharynx is much shorter, and the esophagus correspondingly longer, than in fish. In the majority of vertebrates, the esophagus is simply a connecting tube, but in some birds, which regurgitate components to feed their young, it is extended towards the lower end to form a crop for storing food before it enters the true stomach.[36][37] In ruminants, animals with four stomachs, a groove called the sulcus reticuli is often found in the esophagus, allowing milk to drain directly into the hind stomach, the abomasum.[38] In the horse the esophagus is about 1.2 to 1.5 m (4 to 5 ft) in length, and carries food to the stomach. A muscular ring, called the cardiac sphincter, connects the stomach to the esophagus. This sphincter is very well developed in horses. This and the oblique angle at which the esophagus connects to the stomach explains why horses cannot vomit.[39] The esophagus is also the area of the digestive tract where horses may suffer from choke.

The esophagus of snakes is remarkable for the distension it undergoes when swallowing prey.[40]

In most fish, the esophagus is extremely short, primarily due to the length of the pharynx (which is associated with the gills). However, some fish, including lampreys, chimaeras, and lungfish, have no true stomach, so that the esophagus effectively runs from the pharynx directly to the intestine, and is therefore somewhat longer.[36]

In many vertebrates, the esophagus is lined by stratified squamous epithelium without glands. In fish, the esophagus is often lined with columnar epithelium,[37] and in amphibians, sharks and rays, the esophageal epithelium is ciliated, helping to wash food along, in addition to the action of muscular peristalsis.[36] In addition, in the bat Plecotus auritus, fish and some amphibians, glands secreting pepsinogen or hydrochloric acid have been found.[37]

The muscle of the esophagus in many mammals is striated initially, but then becomes smooth muscle in the caudal third or so. In canines and ruminants, however, it is entirely striated to allow regurgitation to feed young (canines) or regurgitation to chew cud (ruminants). It is entirely smooth muscle in amphibians, reptiles and birds.[37]

Contrary to popular belief,[41] an adult human body would not be able to pass through the esophagus of a whale, which generally measures less than 10 centimetres (4 in) in diameter, although in larger baleen whales it may be up to 25 centimetres (10 in) when fully distended.[42]


A structure with the same name is often found in invertebrates, including molluscs and arthropods, connecting the oral cavity with the stomach.[43] In terms of the digestive system of snails and slugs, the mouth opens into an esophagus, which connects to the stomach. Because of torsion, which is the rotation of the main body of the animal during larval development, the esophagus usually passes around the stomach, and opens into its back, furthest from the mouth. In species that have undergone de-torsion, however, the esophagus may open into the anterior of the stomach, which is the reverse of the usual gastropod arrangement.[44] There is an extensive rostrum at the front of the esophagus in all carnivorous snails and slugs.[45] In the freshwater snail species Tarebia granifera, the brood pouch is above the esophagus.[46]

In the cephalopods, the brain often surrounds the esophagus.[47]


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Barrett's esophagus

Barrett's esophagus is a condition in which there is an abnormal (metaplastic) change in the mucosal cells lining the lower portion of the esophagus, from normal stratified squamous epithelium to simple columnar epithelium with interspersed goblet cells that are normally present only in the colon. This change is considered to be a premalignant condition because it is associated with a high incidence of further transition to esophageal adenocarcinoma, an often-deadly cancer.The main cause of Barrett's esophagus is thought to be an adaptation to chronic acid exposure from reflux esophagitis. Barrett's esophagus is diagnosed by endoscopy: observing the characteristic appearance of this condition by direct inspection of the lower esophagus; followed by microscopic examination of tissue from the affected area obtained from biopsy. The cells of Barrett's esophagus are classified into four categories: nondysplastic, low-grade dysplasia, high-grade dysplasia, and frank carcinoma. High-grade dysplasia and early stages of adenocarcinoma may be treated by endoscopic resection or radiofrequency ablation. Later stages of adenocarcinoma may be treated with surgical resection or palliation. Those with nondysplastic or low-grade dysplasia are managed by annual observation with endoscopy, or treatment with radiofrequency ablation. In high-grade dysplasia, the risk of developing cancer might be at 10% per patient-year or greater.The incidence of esophageal adenocarcinoma has increased substantially in the Western world in recent years. The condition is found in 5–15% of patients who seek medical care for heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD), although a large subgroup of patients with Barrett's esophagus are asymptomatic. The condition is named after surgeon Norman Barrett (1903–1979). Despite this, the condition was originally described by Philip Rowland Allison in 1946.

Diffuse esophageal spasm

Diffuse esophageal spasm (DES) is a condition characterized by uncoordinated contractions of the esophagus, which may cause difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) or regurgitation. In some cases, it may cause symptoms such as chest pain, similar to heart disease. The cause of DES remains unknown.

Certain abnormalities on x-ray imaging are commonly observed in DES, such as a "corkscrew" or "rosary bead esophagus", although these findings are not unique to this condition. Specialized testing called manometry can be performed to evaluate the motor function of the esophagus, which can help identify abnormal patterns of muscle contraction within the esophagus that are suggestive of DES. The treatment of DES consists primarily of medications, such as acid suppressing agents (like proton pump inhibitors), calcium channel blockers, hyoscine butylbromide, or nitrates. In only extremely rare cases, surgery may be considered. People with DES have higher incidences of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and anxiety.

Eosinophilic esophagitis

Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE, also spelled eosinophilic oesophagitis), also known as allergic oesophagitis, is an allergic inflammatory condition of the esophagus that involves eosinophils, a type of white blood cell. Symptoms are swallowing difficulty, food impaction, vomiting, and heartburn.Eosinophilic esophagitis was first described in children but also occurs in adults. The condition is not well understood, but food allergy may play a significant role. The treatment may consist of removal of known or suspected triggers and medication to suppress the immune response. In severe cases, it may be necessary to enlarge the esophagus with an endoscopy procedure.

Esophageal achalasia

Esophageal achalasia, often referred to simply as achalasia, is a failure of smooth muscle fibers to relax, which can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to remain closed. Without a modifier, "achalasia" usually refers to achalasia of the esophagus. Achalasia can happen at various points along the gastrointestinal tract; achalasia of the rectum, for instance, may occur in Hirschsprung's disease.

Esophageal achalasia is an esophageal motility disorder involving the smooth muscle layer of the esophagus and the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). It is characterized by incomplete LES relaxation, increased LES tone, and lack of peristalsis of the esophagus (inability of smooth muscle to move food down the esophagus) in the absence of other explanations like cancer or fibrosis.Achalasia is characterized by difficulty in swallowing, regurgitation, and sometimes chest pain. Diagnosis is reached with esophageal manometry and barium swallow radiographic studies. Various treatments are available, although none cures the condition. Certain medications or Botox may be used in some cases, but more permanent relief is brought by esophageal dilatation and surgical cleaving of the muscle (Heller myotomy).

The most common form is primary achalasia, which has no known underlying cause. It is due to the failure of distal esophageal inhibitory neurons. However, a small proportion occurs secondary to other conditions, such as esophageal cancer, Chagas disease (an infectious disease common in South America) or Triple-A syndrome. Achalasia affects about one person in 100,000 per year. There is no gender predominance for the occurrence of disease. The term is from a- + -chalasia "no relaxation."

Esophageal cancer

Esophageal cancer is cancer arising from the esophagus—the food pipe that runs between the throat and the stomach. Symptoms often include difficulty in swallowing and weight loss. Other symptoms may include pain when swallowing, a hoarse voice, enlarged lymph nodes ("glands") around the collarbone, a dry cough, and possibly coughing up or vomiting blood.The two main sub-types of the disease are esophageal squamous-cell carcinoma (often abbreviated to ESCC), which is more common in the developing world, and esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC), which is more common in the developed world. A number of less common types also occur. Squamous-cell carcinoma arises from the epithelial cells that line the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma arises from glandular cells present in the lower third of the esophagus, often where they have already transformed to intestinal cell type (a condition known as Barrett's esophagus). Causes of the squamous-cell type include tobacco, alcohol, very hot drinks, poor diet, and chewing betel nut. The most common causes of the adenocarcinoma type are smoking tobacco, obesity, and acid reflux.The disease is diagnosed by biopsy done by an endoscope (a fiberoptic camera). Prevention includes stopping smoking and eating a healthy diet. Treatment is based on the cancer's stage and location, together with the person's general condition and individual preferences. Small localized squamous-cell cancers may be treated with surgery alone with the hope of a cure. In most other cases, chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy is used along with surgery. Larger tumors may have their growth slowed with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In the presence of extensive disease or if the affected person is not fit enough to undergo surgery, palliative care is often recommended.As of 2012, esophageal cancer was the eighth-most common cancer globally with 456,000 new cases during the year. It caused about 400,000 deaths that year, up from 345,000 in 1990. Rates vary widely among countries, with about half of all cases occurring in China. It is around three times more common in men than in women. Outcomes are related to the extent of the disease and other medical conditions, but generally tend to be fairly poor, as diagnosis is often late. Five-year survival rates are around 13% to 18%.

Esophageal candidiasis

Esophageal candidiasis is an opportunistic infection of the esophagus by Candida albicans. The disease usually occurs in patients in immunocompromised states, including post-chemotherapy and in AIDS. However, it can also occur in patients with no predisposing risk factors, and is more likely to be asymptomatic in those patients. It is also known as candidal esophagitis or monilial esophagitis.

Esophageal disease

Esophageal diseases can derive from congenital conditions, or they can be acquired later in life.

Many people experience a burning sensation in their chest occasionally, caused by stomach acids refluxing into the esophagus, normally called heartburn. Extended exposure to heartburn may erode the lining of the esophagus, leading potentially to Barrett's esophagus which is associated with an increased risk of adenocarcinoma most commonly found in the distal one-third of the esophagus.

Some people also experience a sensation known as globus esophagus, where it feels as if a ball is lodged in the lower part of the esophagus.

The following are additional diseases and conditions that affect the esophagus:


Acute esophageal necrosis

Barrett's esophagus

Boerhaave syndrome

Caustic injury to the esophagus

Chagas disease

Diffuse esophageal spasm

Esophageal atresia and Tracheoesophageal fistula

Esophageal cancer

Esophageal dysphagia

Esophageal varices

Esophageal web



Hiatus hernia

Jackhammer esophagus (hypercontractile peristalsis)

Killian–Jamieson diverticulum

Mallory-Weiss syndrome

Neurogenic dysphagia

Nutcracker esophagus

Schatzki's ring

Zenker's Diverticulum

Esophageal rupture

Esophageal rupture is a rupture of the esophageal wall. Iatrogenic causes account for approximately 56% of esophageal perforations, usually due to medical instrumentation such as an endoscopy or paraesophageal surgery. In contrast, the term Boerhaave syndrome is reserved for the 10% of esophageal perforations which occur due to vomiting.Spontaneous perforation of the esophagus most commonly results from a full-thickness tear in the esophageal wall due to a sudden increase in intraesophageal pressure combined with relatively negative intrathoracic pressure caused by straining or vomiting (effort rupture of the esophagus or Boerhaave's syndrome). Other causes of spontaneous perforation include caustic ingestion, pill esophagitis, Barrett's esophagus, infectious ulcers in patients with AIDS, and following dilation of esophageal strictures.In most cases of Boerhaave's syndrome, the tear occurs at the left postero-lateral aspect of the distal esophagus and extends for several centimeters. The condition is associated with high morbidity and mortality and is fatal without treatment. The occasionally nonspecific nature of the symptoms may contribute to a delay in diagnosis and a poor outcome. Spontaneous effort rupture of the cervical esophagus, leading to localized cervical perforation, may be more common than previously recognized and has a generally benign course. Preexisting esophageal disease is not a prerequisite for esophageal perforation but it contributes to increased mortality.This condition was first documented by the 18th-century physician Herman Boerhaave, after whom it is named. A related condition is Mallory-Weiss syndrome which is only a mucosal tear.

In case of iatrogenic perforation common site is cervical esophagus just above the upper sphincter whereas spontaneous rupture as seen in Boerhaave's syndrome perforation commonly occurs in the lower (1/3)rd of esophagus.

Esophageal varices

Esophageal varices (sometimes spelled esophageal varix, or oesophageal varices) are extremely dilated sub-mucosal veins in the lower third of the esophagus. They are most often a consequence of portal hypertension, commonly due to cirrhosis; people with esophageal varices have a strong tendency to develop bleeding. Esophageal varices are typically diagnosed through an esophagogastroduodenoscopy.


Esophagitis (British spelling oesophagitis) (Greek οἰσοφάγος "gullet" and -itis "inflammation") is a disease characterized by inflammation of the esophagus. The esophagus is a tube composed of a mucosal lining, and longitudinal and circular smooth muscle fibers. It connects the pharynx to the stomach; swallowed food and liquids normally pass through it.Esophagitis can be asymptomatic; or can cause epigastric and/or substernal burning pain, especially when lying down or straining; and can make swallowing difficult (dysphagia). The most common cause of esophagitis is the reverse flow of acid from the stomach into the lower esophagus: gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Gastroesophageal reflux disease

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux, is a long term condition in which stomach contents rise up into the esophagus, resulting in either symptoms or complications. Symptoms include the taste of acid in the back of the mouth, heartburn, bad breath, chest pain, vomiting, breathing problems, and wearing away of the teeth. Complications include esophagitis, esophageal stricture, and Barrett's esophagus.Risk factors include obesity, pregnancy, smoking, hiatal hernia, and taking certain medicines. Medications involved may include antihistamines, calcium channel blockers, antidepressants and sleeping pills. Acid reflux is due to poor closure of the lower esophageal sphincter, which is at the junction between the stomach and the esophagus. Diagnosis among those who do not improve with simpler measures may involve gastroscopy, upper GI series, esophageal pH monitoring, or esophageal manometry.Treatment options include lifestyle changes; medications; and sometimes surgery for those who do not improve with the first two measures. Lifestyle changes include not lying down for three hours after eating, raising the head of the bed, losing weight, avoiding foods which result in symptoms, and stopping smoking. Medications include antacids, H2 receptor blockers, proton pump inhibitors, and prokinetics.In the Western world, between 10 and 20% of the population is affected by GERD. Occasional gastroesophageal reflux without troublesome symptoms or complications is even more common. The classic symptoms of GERD were first described in 1925, when Friedenwald and Feldman commented on heartburn and its possible relationship to a hiatal hernia. In 1934 gastroenterologist Asher Winkelstein described reflux and attributed the symptoms to stomach acid.

Globus pharyngis

Globus pharyngis is the persistent sensation of having phlegm, a pill or some other sort of obstruction in the throat when there is none. Swallowing can be performed normally, so it is not a true case of dysphagia, but it can become quite irritating. One may also feel mild chest pain or even severe pain with a clicking sensation when swallowing.

Hiatal hernia

A hiatal hernia is a type of hernia in which abdominal organs (typically the stomach) slip through the diaphragm into the middle compartment of the chest. This may result in gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) with symptoms such as a taste of acid in the back of the mouth or heartburn. Other symptoms may include trouble swallowing and chest pains. Complications may include iron deficiency anemia, volvulus, or bowel obstruction.The most common risk factors are obesity and older age. Other risk factors include major trauma, scoliosis, and certain types of surgery. There are two main types: a sliding hernia, in which the body of the stomach moves up, and a paraesophageal hernia, in which an abdominal organ moves beside the esophagus. The diagnosis may be confirmed with endoscopy or medical imaging. Endoscopy is typically only required when concerning symptoms are present, symptoms are resistant to treatment, or the person is over 50 years of age.Symptoms from a hiatal hernia may be improved by changes such as raising the head of the bed, weight loss, and adjusting eating habits. Medications that reduce gastric acid such as H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors may also help with the symptoms although they can also create significant side effects. If the condition does not improve with medications, a surgery to carry out a laparoscopic fundoplication may be an option. Between 10% and 80% of people in the United States are affected.

Human digestive system

The human digestive system consists of the gastrointestinal tract plus the accessory organs of digestion (the tongue, salivary glands, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder). Digestion involves the breakdown of food into smaller and smaller components, until they can be absorbed and assimilated into the body. The process of digestion has many stages. The first stage is the cephalic phase of digestion which begins with gastric secretions in response to the sight and smell of food. The next stage starts in the mouth.

Chewing, in which food is mixed with saliva, begins the mechanical process of digestion. This produces a bolus which can be swallowed down the esophagus to enter the stomach. Here it is mixed with gastric acid until it passes into the duodenum where it is mixed with a number of enzymes produced by the pancreas. Saliva also contains a catalytic enzyme called amylase which starts to act on food in the mouth. Another digestive enzyme called lingual lipase is secreted by some of the lingual papillae on the tongue and also from serous glands in the main salivary glands. Digestion is helped by the chewing of food carried out by the muscles of mastication, by the teeth, and also by the contractions of peristalsis, and segmentation. Gastric acid, and the production of mucus in the stomach, are essential for the continuation of digestion.

Peristalsis is the rhythmic contraction of muscles that begins in the esophagus and continues along the wall of the stomach and the rest of the gastrointestinal tract. This initially results in the production of chyme which when fully broken down in the small intestine is absorbed as chyle into the lymphatic system. Most of the digestion of food takes place in the small intestine. Water and some minerals are reabsorbed back into the blood in the colon of the large intestine. The waste products of digestion (feces) are defecated from the anus via the rectum.


Megaesophagus, also known as esophageal dilatation, is a disorder of the esophagus in humans and other mammals, whereby the esophagus becomes abnormally enlarged. Megaesophagus may be caused by any disease which causes the muscles of the esophagus to fail to properly propel food and liquid from the mouth into the stomach (that is, a failure of peristalsis). Food can become lodged in the flaccid esophagus, where it may decay, be regurgitated, or may be inhaled into the lungs (leading to aspiration pneumonia).

Nutcracker esophagus

Nutcracker esophagus, or hypertensive peristalsis, is a disorder of the movement of the esophagus characterized by contractions in the smooth muscle of the esophagus in a normal sequence but at an excessive amplitude or duration. Nutcracker esophagus is one of several motility disorders of the esophagus, including achalasia and diffuse esophageal spasm. It causes difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, to both solid and liquid foods, and can cause significant chest pain; it may also be asymptomatic. Nutcracker esophagus can affect people of any age, but is more common in the sixth and seventh decades of life. The diagnosis is made by an esophageal motility study (esophageal manometry), which evaluates the pressure of the esophagus at various points along its length. The term "nutcracker esophagus" comes from the finding of increased pressures during peristalsis, with a diagnosis made when pressures exceed 180 mmHg; this has been likened to the pressure of a mechanical nutcracker. The disorder does not progress, and is not associated with any complications; as a result, treatment of nutcracker esophagus targets control of symptoms only.


Peristalsis is a radially symmetrical contraction and relaxation of muscles that propagates in a wave down a tube, in an anterograde direction.

In much of a digestive tract such as the human gastrointestinal tract, smooth muscle tissue contracts in sequence to produce a peristaltic wave, which propels a ball of food (called a bolus while in the esophagus and upper gastrointestinal tract and chyme in the stomach) along the tract. Peristaltic movement comprises relaxation of circular smooth muscles, then their contraction behind the chewed material to keep it from moving backward, then longitudinal contraction to push it forward.

Earthworms use a similar mechanism to drive their locomotion, and some modern machinery imitates this design.

The word comes from New Latin and is derived from the Greek peristellein, "to wrap around," from peri-, "around" + stellein, "draw in, bring together; set in order".


In vertebrate anatomy, the throat is the front part of the neck, positioned in front of the vertebra. It contains the pharynx and larynx. An important section of it is the epiglottis, which is a flap separating the esophagus from the trachea (windpipe) preventing food and drink being inhaled into the lungs. The throat contains various blood vessels, pharyngeal muscles, the nasopharyngeal tonsil, the tonsils, the palatine uvula, the trachea, the esophagus, and the vocal cords. Mammal throats consist of two bones, the hyoid bone and the clavicle. The "throat" is sometimes thought to be synonymous for the isthmus of the fauces.It works with the mouth, ears and nose, as well as a number of other parts of the body. Its pharynx is connected to the mouth, allowing speech to occur, and food and liquid to pass down the throat. It is joined to the nose by the nasopharynx at the top of the throat, and to ear by its Eustachian tube. The throat's trachea carries inhaled air to the bronchi of the lungs. The esophagus carries food through the throat to the stomach. Adenoids and tonsils help prevent infection and are composed of lymph tissue. The larynx contains vocal cords, the epiglottis (preventing food/liquid inhalation), and an area known as the subglottic larynx—the narrowest section of the upper part of the throat. In the larynx, the vocal cords consist of two membranes that act according to the pressure of the air.

Zenker's diverticulum

A Zenker's diverticulum, also pharyngeal pouch, is a diverticulum of the mucosa of the esophagus, just above the cricopharyngeal muscle (i.e. above the upper sphincter of the esophagus). It is a pseudo diverticulum (not involving all layers of the esophageal wall).

It was named in 1877 by German pathologist Friedrich Albert von Zenker.

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