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.

See also: Esophagitis herpes

Alternative Names

Inflammation - esophagus

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Esophagitis is often caused by fluid that contains acid flowing back from the stomach to the esophagus, a condition called gastroesophageal reflux. An autoimmune disorder called eosinophilic esophagitis also causes this condition.

The following increase your risk of esophagitis:

  • Alcohol use
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Surgery or radiation to the chest (for example, treatment for lung cancer)
  • Taking certain medications without plenty of water, especially alendronate, doxycycline, ibandronate, risedronate, tetracycline, and vitamin C
  • Vomiting

Persons with weakened immune systems due to HIV and certain medications (such as corticosteroids) may develop infections that lead to esophagitis.

Esophageal infection may be due to fungi, yeast (especially Candida infections), or viruses such as herpes or cytomegalovirus.


The infection or irritation may cause the esophagus to become inflamed. Sores called ulcers may form.

Symptoms may include:

  • Cough
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Painful swallowing
  • Heartburn (acid reflux)
  • Hoarseness
  • Sore throat

Signs and tests

The doctor may perform the following tests:

  • Esophageal manometry
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), removing a piece of tissue from the esophagus for examination (biopsy)
  • Upper GI series (barium swallow x-ray)


Treatment depends on the cause. For reflux disease, you may need medications to reduce acid. Infections will need to be treated with antibiotics.

Expectations (prognosis)

The disorders that cause esophagitis usually respond to treatment.


If untreated, esophagitis may cause severe discomfort, and eventual scarring (stricture) of the esophagus. This can cause difficulty swallowing food or medications.

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 of esophagitis.



Falk GW, Katzka DA. Diseases of the esophagus. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 140.

Richter JE, Friedenberg FK. Gastroesophageal reflux disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 43.

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