Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can cause scarring over time as the tissue in the esophagus tries to heal itself. Scar tissue is thicker than the normal lining of the esophagus, which causes the esophagus to narrow in places where the scar tissue forms, making it difficult to swallow. This narrowing in the esophagus is called a stricture. Strictures act as a barrier to food being swallowed and can eventually prevent food and even liquids from making their way down the esophagus and into the stomach. Eighty percent of esophageal strictures are related to GERD.
Symptoms of esophageal strictures
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Regurgitation of food
- Weight loss
- Chest discomfort/pain
With strictures, you may find yourself chewing longer, needing to wash food down with water or other liquids and even taking smaller bites of food to help it pass through the esophagus. Some people with strictures begin to eat less because of pain when swallowing. This can lead to weight loss. When food gets stuck in your esophagus from a severe stricture and is vomited back up, you may need immediate treatment.
Doctors can diagnose strictures with a barium esophagram. The barium esophagram outlines the size and location of the stricture or strictures in your esophagus. Your doctor may also perform an endoscopy to visually evaluate the situation in your esophagus visually.
Treatment for Strictures
- Dilation- stretching/dilating the wall of the esophagus to enlarge the opening to allow food to pass into the stomach
Doctors may also prescribe PPIs, also known as proton pump inhibitors. This acid-suppression medication may help reduce the need for additional dilations, thereby lowering the possibility for esophageal perforations, bleeding and other complications.