Understanding Esophageal Strictures
What are esophageal strictures?
Esophageal strictures most typically result in problems swallowing.
What happens when I swallow?
It might seem like a perfectly straightforward action, but swallowing involves the coming together of nerves, muscles, valves, and your esophagus, so they all do the right thing at the right time. When your brain decides it’s time to swallow the food in your mouth, one valve closes off your airway to prevent food or fluid entering your lungs, while another valve opens to allow food to go down your esophagus, the pipe that leads from your mouth to your stomach. The food or fluid enters the esophagus, where muscular contractions squeeze it downward. Another valve opens in response to the esophageal contractions, and the food enters your stomach.
Why would I have difficulty swallowing?
Difficulty swallowing is a medical condition called dysphagia, and there are several reasons why you might develop this problem:
Muscle dysfunction following a stroke
Achalasia, a condition affecting sphincter muscles
GERD (gastroenterological reflux disease)
ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease)
Tumors blocking the throat or esophagus
Most of the time, food and drink pass down the esophagus with no trouble at all, although you may occasionally experience a lump of food getting stuck momentarily. These blockages are easy enough to clear with a drink, but if you find you’re frequently choking, that could be a sign of some kind of swallowing dysfunction.
If you feel like your food takes longer than a few seconds to travel down the esophagus, or you experience pain when you swallow, you should call Atlanta Center for Gastroenterology at 404-296-1986 and book a consultation to find out what’s causing your swallowing difficulty
How are swallowing difficulties diagnosed and treated?
Atlanta Center for Gastroenterology can run a series of tests to find the cause of your swallowing difficulties, such as:
Cineradiography, a type of barium X-ray
Manometry to test the muscles in the esophagus
Impedance and pH test to check for GERD
Once the cause of your swallowing difficulties is clear, your medical team can prescribe the appropriate treatment for any underlying condition. You can also help reduce the problems you’re experiencing by concentrating when you’re eating, sitting in an upright position, and eating slowly and carefully. Eating softer foods can also help relieve symptoms.
If you experience difficulty swallowing, Atlanta Center for Gastroenterology at 404-296-1986 and book a consultation to meet with one of our board certified gastroenterologists to discuss your particular circumstances, health, and to tailor a unique treatment of care regiment tuned specifically to you and your health.
What is Dysphagia?
Dysphagia is just one of many different medical terms for swallowing difficulties. Some people with dysphagia have problems swallowing certain foods or liquids, while others cannot swallow at all. Other signs of dysphagia include: coughing or choking when eating or drinking, bringing food back up, sometimes through the nose, and/or a sensation that food is stuck in the throat or chest. Over time, dysphagia can also cause symptoms such as weight loss and repeated chest infections. You should see a physician if you have any degree of swallowing difficulties.
Why does dysphagia happen?
Dysphagia is usually caused by another health condition, such as: a condition affecting the nervous system – e.g., a stroke, a head injury or dementia, cancer – e.g., mouth cancer or esophageal cancer, and/or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), where stomach acid leaks back up into the oesophagus (the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach). Dysphagia can also occur in children as a result of a developmental or learning disability.
How is dysphagia treated?
Treatment usually depends on the cause and type of dysphagia. The specific type of dysphagia you have can usually be diagnosed after your ability to swallow has been tested and your esophagus has been examined. Treatments for dysphagia include: speech and language therapy to learn new swallowing techniques, changing the consistency of food and drinks to make them safer to swallow, alternative forms of feeding, such as tube feeding through the nose or stomach, and/or treating the narrowing of the oesophagus with surgery, by stretching or inserting a metal tube.
Many cases of dysphagia can improve with treatment, but a cure is not always possible.
Dysphagia can sometimes lead to further problems. One of the most common problems is coughing or choking, when food goes down the "wrong way" and blocks your airway. If this happens often, then you may try to avoid eating and drinking due to a fear of choking. However, this can lead to malnutrition and dehydration. Some people with dysphagia have a tendency to develop chest infections, such as aspiration pneumonia, which may require medical treatment. Dysphagia can also affect your quality of life because it may prevent you from enjoying meals and social occasions.