Esophagitis

What is esophagitis?

Esophagitis is inflammation of the esophagus, the part of the body that connects the mouth to the stomach. The severity and underlying cause of the issue can vary from person to person. If left untreated it can eventually interfere with the normal function of the esophagus. 

What causes esophagitis?

The most common cause is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). When the valve connecting the stomach and esophagus works improperly, stomach acid can back up into the esophagus. This is called acid reflux. Those who suffer from acid reflux regularly have GERD. Heartburn is commonly a side effect of acid reflux. Esophagitis caused by acid reflux is called reflux esophagitis. 

Additional causes of esophagitis can include, infection (infection esophagitis), allergies (eosinophilic esophagitis) or certain oral medications (drug-induced esophagitis).

Risk factors for esophagitis

If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease you have a greater risk of developing reflux esophagitis. Factors that increase your risk of developing GERD and reflux esophagitis include:

  • Eating excessively large meals 
  • Eating excessively fatty meals
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Excess alcohol and caffeine
  • Eating immediately before going to bed or laying down

Certain oral medications can cause drug-induced esophagitis if not taken properly. Common ones are pain relivers, such as Motrin, Advil, and Aleve as well as some antibiotics. Factors that increase your risk of developing esophagitis while taking these drugs include:

  • Taking the drug while/right before lying down
  • Swallowing the pill with little or no water

Symptoms

Common signs of esophagitis

  • Difficult and painful swallowing
  • Chest pain with eating
  • Swallowed food becoming stuck in the esophagus
  • Heartburn
  • Acid regurgitation

Diagnosis

If you are suffering from frequent symptoms of esophagitis you doctor may perform the following exams.

Endoscopy

A small flexible tube with a camera can be inserted into many areas of your GI tract, including your esophagus. A biopsy can also be done during this exam—where a cell sample is taken for testing. This can determine what your esophagitis may be caused by, such as an allergy or infection.

Imaging tests

An X-ray, CT or MRI can show abnormalities in the GI tract.

These tests can help determine if you have esophagitis and what the cause is or if your symptoms are due to something else.

Treatment 

Your specified treatment plan will depend on the exact cause of the disorder. 

Your doctor may recommend the following treatment methods if your esophagitis is due to GERD. 

Over-the-counter medicines

Many antacids are available over-the-counter along with medicines that reduce stomach acid and block acid production. Discuss options with a health-care provider to determine which is best for you.

Prescription medicines

Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to alleviate your symptoms and allow your esophagus to heal.

Surgery

A procedure that strengthens the valve connecting your esophagus and stomach may be necessary if other treatment methods are ineffective. 

Treating other causes

If your esophagitis is due to an infection your doctor will most likely prescribe a medicine to treat the infection and help the esophagus heal. 

Drug-induced esophagitis can be first treated by avoiding the drug causing inflammation. Practicing good pill-taking habits can also be helpful. 

  • Drink an entire glass of water with the pill (unless your doctor tells your specifically not to do this)
  • Avoid laying down for at least 30 minutes after taking the pill

If you have an allergy that is causing your esophagitis your treatment will depend on the allergy. If it is a food, eliminate that food from your diet. Some allergies can be easily treated with medication.

Last reviewed: 
November 2018

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