What Is Esophageal Dilatation?

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  • Written By: H. Lo
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 17 July 2019
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Esophageal dilatation is a medical procedure used to widen a narrowed part of the esophagus. The esophagus is a long tube that leads from the mouth to the stomach, and is used in swallowing and carrying foods or liquids. When the esophagus narrows, it becomes hard to swallow, and causes discomfort or pain. As such, an affected person undergoes an esophageal dilatation procedure to treat the condition. In some cases, repeated procedures might be necessary to maintain a widened esophagus.

There are a variety of causes of a narrowed esophagus, including infections, diseases and medical procedures. Reflux due to stomach acid is probably the most common cause of the condition. Other causes include esophageal muscle diseases, motility disorders of the esophagus, and rings or webs of excess tissue. In addition, the condition might also arise from swallowing certain chemicals, from a surgery, and from a tumor as well. Also, any injury that damages and swells the tissues in the esophagus can lead to the medical condition since scarring causes previously injured areas to become stiff.


In general, the esophageal dilatation procedure consists of inserting a dilator down the esophagus to dilate or stretch the narrowed area. Different types of dilators include balloon dilators, bougie dilators and rigid dilators. Depending on the cause and extent of the condition, the esophageal dilation procedure might also include endoscopy and fluoroscopy. If endoscopy is part of the procedure, the patient will also undergo sedation. Also, with or without endoscopy, a local anesthetic spray is used to numb the throat during the procedure.

Depending on the type of equipment used, esophageal dilatation can last anywhere between a few minutes to half an hour long. During this time, the patient might feel some mild pressure as the dilator expands inside his or her esophagus. Afterwards, the patient is monitored for a little while, and then released to go about his or her daily activities. Of course, those who were sedated will need longer observation time. Recovery from the procedure is relatively quick, with the patient usually able recover by the next day.

There are some complications that can arise from esophageal dilatation. During the procedure, tearing can happen in the esophagus, which leads to bleeding. In addition, perforations, or holes, can form in the esophagus as well. Signs of complications include chest pain, difficulty swallowing or fever. Overall, some people might have to repeatedly undergo esophageal dilatation until the narrowed part of the esophagus is completely widened, but if it is unsuccessful, the patient might have to resort to other treatment methods, such as major chest surgery.


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