Esophagus disorders include esophageal ring, esophageal webs, spasm, diverticula, erosive esophagitis, achalasia, esophageal laceration, ruptures and perforations. The esophagus is a hollow tube that extends from the throat to the stomach. Disorders of this structure can be related to some type of obstruction, to an injury or to an abnormality in the propulsive movements that it makes to force solid foods down from the throat to the stomach. Peristalsis refers to the action of propulsive movements in the body.
Esophageal ring, sometimes called Schatzki's ring, is the narrowing of the lower esophagus, which is the end approaching the opening of the stomach. The condition can result from chronic acid injury, which can cause a ring of tissue to form inside the organ, narrowing the passage through which food passes. This is one of the esophagus disorders that can develop at any age, but it generally appears after the age of 25 and is characterized by difficulty in swallowing. Rarely is surgery needed to correct the problem, because thoroughly chewing food followed by slow drinking of liquids tends to reduce symptoms greatly.
Thin membranes that develop across the inside of the upper portion of the esophagus are called webs. They form most often in people who suffer severe iron deficiency anemia, and they also cause trouble swallowing. Webs usually disappear after the anemia is treated.
One of the most frightening of all of the esophagus disorders is the esophageal spasm, which is an abnormality in peristalsis. A severe, squeezing pain in the chest under the breast bone is often experienced during contractions. It might be accompanied by trouble swallowing.
Diverticula are abnormal pouches or protrusions from the food tube. They can cause difficulty swallowing, but this is rare, and treatment is not usually needed. Chronic acid reflux disease is the most common — but not the only — cause of erosive esophagitis, a condition in which portions of the organ are inflamed and eroded.
Achalasia is a condition in which the normal propulsive movements of the esophagus are significantly decreased, and the lower ring of muscles, known as the lower sphincter, does not relax as it should. This problem arises when the nerves that control the contractions malfunction. Propulsion-related esophagus disorders such as achalasia can lead to other serious health problems. For example, a person could inhale food into his or her lungs, which could lead to a lung abscess or pneumonia.
Injury-related esophagus disorders include lacerations, which are tears that do not penetrate the organ's wall, and ruptures and perforations, which do. These esophagus disorders, particularly a rupture, can be life-threatening and can require emergency surgery. They can be caused by drinking a corrosive substance, by vomiting that is violent or forced and even by a medical examination that involves the insertion of an instrument via the mouth and throat.