Inflammation - esophagus

Alternative names

Esophagitis is a general term for any inflammation, irritation, or swelling of the esophagus, the tube that leads from the back of the mouth to the stomach.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Esophagitis is frequently caused by backflow of acid-containing fluid from the stomach to the esophagus (gastroesophageal reflux). It may also be caused by excessive vomitng, surgery, and medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, potassium, alendronate, and doxycycline.

In patients with weakened immune systems caused by HIV and certain medications (such as corticosteroids), esophagitis may be caused by an infection of the esophagus. Esophageal infection may be caused by viruses such as herpes or cytomegalovirus, and fungi or yeast (especially Candida infections).

The infection or irritation may cause the tissues to become inflamed and can occasionally cause ulcers. There may also be difficulty when swallowing, and a burning sensation in the esophagus.

Related topics:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease  
  • Esophagitis Candida  
  • Esophagitis CMV  
  • Esophagitis herpes


  • Difficulty swallowing  
  • Painful swallowing  
  • Heartburn (acid reflux)  
  • Oral lesions (herpes)

Signs and tests
The doctor may perform the following tests:

  • Direct visualization of the esophagus with a scope (endoscopy)  
  • Barium swallow (x-ray using special dye to be swallowed )  
  • Biopsy  
  • Culture

Treatment depends on the specific cause. Reflux disease may require medications to reduce acid. Infections will require antibiotics.

Expectations (prognosis)
The disorders that cause esophagitis usually respond to treatment.


If untreated, esophagitis may cause severe discomfort, swallowing difficulty to the extent of causing malnutrition or dehydration, and eventual scarring of the esophagus. This scarring may lead to a stricture of the esophagus, and food or medications may not be able to pass through to the stomach.

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

Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms that suggest esophagitis.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Amalia K. Gagarina, M.S., R.D.

Medical Encyclopedia

  A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | 0-9

All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.