Herpes Esophagitis

Alternative names
Herpes esophagitis

Herpes esophagitis is an infection causing inflammation and ulcers in the esophagus. It is caused by the herpes simplex virus.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Infection of the esophagus by the herpes simplex virus in individuals with normal immune systems is very rare and usually runs its course without treatment, but severe and persistent esophagitis can occur in an immunosuppressed or immunodeficient person.

Herpetic esophagitis causes excruciating pain when swallowing. The infection is frequently associated with fever and occasionally chills. Healthy individuals recover spontaneously in 3 to 5 days but those with weakened immune systems take longer.


  • difficulty swallowing  
  • painful swallowing  
  • herpes in the mouth may be present (Herpes labialis)  
  • more generalized symptoms such as Joint pain may be present

Signs and tests

  • an EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy) with biopsy showing herpes  
  • a culture of cells from esophageal brushings showing herpes  
  • an esophagogastroduodenoscopy showing herpes lesions


The objective of treatment is to control the infection with antiviral medications. Pain medicine can also be given.

Expectations (prognosis)

Esophagitis can usually be treated effectively. The outcome depends upon the underlying immunodeficiency that makes the person more susceptible to the infection.


Complications include recurrent infections.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have any condition that may result in reduced immune response and symptoms of esophagitis herpes develop.


The herpes simplex virus is contagious by direct contact, so avoid contact with known herpes lesions.

Also Read:


Candida Esophagitis
Esophagitis - cytomegalovirus
CMV Esophagitis
Peptic esophagitis
Reflux esophagitis

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 5, 2012
by David A. Scott, M.D.

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