What is Oesophagitis?
Oesophagitis is an inflammation of the lining of the lower end of the oesophagus (gullet or swallowing tube leading to the stomach). In most people, this is caused by the digestive juices in the stomach repeatedly moving upwards into the lower oesophagus (this is called acid reflux).

How do you get Oesophagitis?
Doctors know that in western countries, 40% of adults suffer from heartburn and half of these also have oesophagitis.

  • In most people, oesophagitis is caused by the digestive juices in the stomach, repeatedly moving upwards into the lower oesophagus (called acid reflux).  
  • The condition may be due to an abnormal working of the oesophagus (where it enters the stomach) since it can normally squeeze itself together to act as a shut-off valve or tap.  
  • Sometimes, oesophagitis is due to too much acid being produced by the stomach.  
  • It can occur in some people when the stomach does not empty quickly enough and becomes overfilled with digestion contents.

How serious is Oesophagitis?
For most people with oesophagitis, the discomfort and other symptoms may result in a poor quality of life and decreased productivity with regard to activities and work.

  • Sufferers may experience a burning sensation in the lower chest immediately after swallowing hot fluids, alcohol, concentrated fruit juice or hot fatty foods, such as bacon and eggs.  
  • Similar discomfort may be felt after meals, particularly on stooping or lying down.  
  • Food or fluid may come up into the mouth (regurgitation), especially when lying down or in bed at night. If this is severe, the sufferer may wake up coughing or with a choking sensation.  
  • In severe cases, the lining of the oesophagus may become ulcerated, leading to pain and possible narrowing due to scarring. A person with oesophagitis may then experience difficulty swallowing, first solid foods and then even more, liquid foods.  
  • In people with oesophagitis, there may be an increased risk of cancer of the oesophagus.

How long does Oesophagitis last?
Oesophagitis and heartburn, the main symptom, may last several weeks, months, or longer if not treated and can re-occur. Drug treatment is often only needed for a short period, although it usually needs to be re-prescribed.

How is Oesophagitis treated?
Medicines for oesophagitis range from antacids, which neutralise any acid in the oesophagus, through to stronger medicines such as proton pump inhibitors which reduce, or actually stop, the production of acid in the stomach (see also, GERD).

Drug treatment is often only needed for a short period, although it usually needs to be re-prescribed. Medication that can enhance the normal swallowing movements of the oesophagus can also be prescribed and can be helpful.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised:

Diseases and Conditions Center

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