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Esophagitis refers to any inflammation, irritation, or swelling of the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that leads from the back of the mouth to the stomach.

Causes of Esophagitis

Esophagitis is often caused by stomach fluid that flows back into the esophagus. The fluid contains acid which irritates the tissue. This problem is called gastroesophageal reflux. An autoimmune disorder called eosinophilic esophagitis also causes this condition.

The following increase your risk of esophagitis:

People who have a weakened immune system may develop infections that lead to esophagitis. Infection may be due to:

  • Fungi or yeast (most often Candida)
  • Viruses, such as herpes or cytomegalovirus

Esophagitis Symptoms

The infection or irritation may cause the esophagus to become inflamed. Sores called ulcers may form.

Symptoms may include:

  • Cough
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Painful swallowing
  • Heartburn (acid reflux)
  • Hoarseness
  • Sore throat

Tests and Exams

The doctor may perform the following tests:

Treatment of Esophagitis

Treatment depends on the cause.

  • For reflux disease, you may need to take medicines that reduce stomach acid.
  • Infections will need to be treated with antibiotics.
  • Eosinophilic esophagitis is treated with medication and possibly eliminating certain foods from your diet.

Prognosis (Outlook)

Most of the time, the disorders that cause esophagitis respond to treatment.

Potential Complications

If untreated, esophagitis may cause severe discomfort. Scarring (stricture) of the esophagus may develop. This can cause swallowing problems.

A condition called Barrett's esophagus can develop after years of gastroesophageal reflux. Rarely, Barrett's esophagus may lead to cancer of the esophagus.

When to Contact a Health Professional

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of esophagitis.


Falk GW, Katzka DA. Diseases of the esophagus. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 140.

Richter JE, Friedenberg FK. Gastroesophageal reflux disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 43.

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Review Date: 8/11/2014
Reviewed By: Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Aria Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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