Recent Blog Articles
5 inflammation-fighting food swaps
Is IBD an underrecognized health problem in minority groups?
Sickle cell disease in newborns and children: What families should know and do
COVID-19 vaccines for children and teens: What we do — and don’t — know
Happy trails: Take a hike, now
Sleep well — and reduce your risk of dementia and death
COVID-19 vaccines and the LGBTQ+ community
Polycystic ovary syndrome and the skin
Dental appliances for sleep apnea: Do they work?
Terrified of needles? That can affect your health
What Is It?
The esophagus is the muscular tube that carries food through the chest, from the mouth to the stomach. Normally you don't feel it except when you are swallowing. However, if the inside lining of your esophagus becomes inflamed, you may experience pain or problems with swallowing. This inflammation of the esophagus is called esophagitis.
Esophagitis has several common causes:
Acid reflux — By far the most common cause of esophagitis is acid reflux (also called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD). It is a backflow of digestive acid from the stomach, resulting in a chemical burn of the esophagus.
- Eating disorders — Similar to acid reflux, frequent vomiting can cause acid burn in the esophagus. Esophagitis sometimes is seen in people with eating disorders such as bulimia.
Medications ("Pill esophagitis") — Some common medications also can cause a chemical burn in the esophagus. Pills that are most likely to cause esophagitis include:
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
osteoporosis medications such as alendronate (Fosamax) or risedronate (Actonel)
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer — Some of these treatments can injure the esophagus lining, resulting in esophagitis.
Infections — Infections in the esophagus also can cause esophagitis. They usually occur in people with a weak immune system. Esophagitis from infections is common in people who have HIV infection, use steroid medicines long-term, have had organ transplants, or have been treated with chemotherapy for cancer.
Only a few types of infection are common in the esophagus, such as:
Even in someone who already has a herpes infection in the mouth, it rarely spreads down to the esophagus if the immune system is normal.
herpes virus (HSV)
The main symptoms of esophagitis are:
Pain in the chest (behind the breastbone) or throat. The pain can be burning, heavy or sharp. If acid reflux is the cause of esophagitis, the pain may be worse after meals or when you lie flat. Pain from esophagitis may be constant or may come and go.
Swallowing problems including worsening of the chest pain when you swallow or a feeling of food sticking in your chest after you swallow
Bleeding, seen as blood in vomit or as darkening of the stools
The diagnosis often is made based on your symptoms.
To continue reading this article, you must log in.
Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.
- Research health conditions
- Check your symptoms
- Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
- Find the best treatments and procedures for you
- Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.Sign Me Up
Already a member? Login ».
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.