The esophagus is the viaduct for everything we ingest for nourishment (food) or health (medicines), literally the food pipe. While ingested material normally travels from the mouth to the stomach, potentially damaging digestive juices sometimes flow in the reverse direction. This stomach fluid ‒ containing powerful stomach acids, enzymes and bile ‒ may back up into the esophagus and eventually develop into a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Long-term, repeated exposure to these fluids can produce heart burn and mid-chest pain and damage the lining of the esophagus (esophagitis).
GERD can range from producing mildly annoying heartburn to becoming a more serious condition. Reflux, or the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus, is the most common esophageal complaint. One in four Americans have or will experience heartburn due to reflux sometime in their lives. If not well managed, chronic GERD can progress to a precancerous disorder called Barrett’s esophagus and, possibly, esophageal cancer.
Another esophageal condition, eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) is an inflammatory disorder. Usually connected to a food allergy, EoE can result in difficulty swallowing. At NorthShore, our integrated multidisciplinary team of gastroenterology and allergy specialists works closely to diagnose and treat this increasingly common GI condition.