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What is an Esophageal Stricture?

Article Details
  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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An esophageal stricture is a narrowing of the esophagus which usually occurs as a result of an ongoing disease process. This condition can become a problem for the patient, and there are several treatment options available to manage the stricture. Certain people may be at increased risk for esophageal stricture, and may need to take special care to avoid it.

The stricture occurs when damage to the esophagus causes scarring. Usually the damage and scarring are repeated, and over time, the esophagus hardens and becomes narrower. The patient may experience difficulty swallowing, or regurgitate food. In addition, some patients experience unintentional weight loss because they adjust their eating habits to compensate for the stricture.

A common cause of esophageal stricture is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Stricture can also happen as a result of cancerous growths, infections, chronic inflammation, long-term use of a nasogastric tube, or exposure to corrosive substances. Sometimes, people develop strictures as a result of damage incurred during an endoscopy of the esophagus. If a doctor identifies risk factors in a patient, the doctor may suggest taking steps to avoid stricture or to address it early if it starts to emerge.

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If a stricture is suspected, a doctor can perform an endoscopy to look at the esophagus for signs of damage. A barium swallow can also be used to learn more about what is going on inside the patient's esophagus. Determining the cause can be important for developing an approach to treatment, and to ensure that the cause is addressed to reduce the risk that the stricture will recur after treatment.

One option is esophageal dilation, in which a doctor widens the esophagus to correct the narrowing. Sometimes medications can be used to manage the underlying cause, which may give the esophagus a chance to recover on its own. A doctor may also make dietary recommendations which can be used in treatment, and may help the patient feel more comfortable if eating is painful.

In some cases, a wait and see approach may be taken to the treatment of an esophageal stricture. The condition may be benign, and intervention could cause complications. If the stricture worsens or becomes a problem for the patient, intervention options can be discussed with a doctor. A patient with a history of esophageal stricture should make sure that it is noted on his or her chart, as it may become relevant in the treatment of future medical issues.

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