The esophagus is the viaduct for everything we ingest for nourishment (food) or health (medicines), literally the food pipe. NorthShore’s Division of Gastroenterology treats a wide range of upper GI/Esophageal conditions.
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 heartburn, mid-chest pain and damage the lining of the esophagus causing inflammation (esophagitis).
GERD can range from producing mildly annoying heartburn to regurgitation and vomiting of acid and bile. 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 work closely and use advanced therapeutic endoscopic procedures, such as upper GI endoscopy, to diagnose and treat this increasingly common GI condition.
When the esophagus becomes narrowed, food can become caught or hung up briefly when swallowed, this may signify the presence of an esophageal stricture. Stricture are typically related to acid reflux. An endoscopy is usually performed to identify the stricture, if one is found it can be dilated at the time of the endoscopy so that food can pass through without difficulty.
The wall of esophagus has muscle that contract in a coordinated fashion to propel food through. When the esophagus muscle spasms it can also result in difficult swallowing. At NorthShore we have a GI Motility lab that can identify spasmodic conditions, including achalasia and diffuse esophageal spasm.