Your esophagus is the long, hollow tube that runs downwards from your throat, carrying food to your stomach. But it’s not the simple organ you might think — dozens of disorders can be traced back to the esophagus, most with one primary symptom: difficulty swallowing.
If you’re having a hard time getting your food down, or are having other symptoms related to swallowing, come see the experts at Central Maine Healthcare. Our skilled gastroenterologists can get to the source of the problem and help make eating easier and enjoyable once again.
GERD, or Acid Reflux
There’s a small muscle at the end of your esophagus, and when the “tube” sends food to your stomach, the muscle clamps shut so the food will stay down there. But with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), that muscle doesn’t close property and some of the contents can leak back up. When that happens, not only do you get that unpleasant taste in your mouth, but over time reflux can damage your esophagus.
In most cases, over-the-counter antacids and other remedies, combined with a few lifestyle changes, will take care of reflux. If you’re overweight, your GI doctor at Central Maine can help you get down to a healthy weight, with support from our registered dietitians and certified fitness trainers. If needed, we can also prescribe medications to reduce the acid in your stomach.
Heartburn is similar to GERD in many ways, so much so that people often mistake one for the other. With heartburn, instead of food backing up into the esophagus, stomach acid backs up, causing a slight burning sensation in your chest. It’s a common ailment among pregnant women, and also caused by eating spicy foods, or some alcohol or medications. Like GERD, it can damage your esophagus over time.
Your gastroenterologist can recommend the best over-the-counter stomach acid remedies, or if necessary, prescribe medication to help relieve the problem.
Like other disorders of the esophagus, the primary symptom is difficulty (or painful) swallowing, but the similarities end there. Other symptoms include hoarseness, weight loss and a cough that doesn’t go away.
Risk factors for esophageal cancer include smoking, drinking heavily or having acid reflux—another reason for not ignoring your GERD symptoms.
The best way to describe dysphagia is, “ineffective swallowing.” You just can’t get all of your food down, even if your esophagus is healthy, and you may feel that something’s stuck in your throat. Dysphagia can be caused by a stroke or some illness that affects the nerves or muscles of your esophagus. Often it’s associated with GERD and usually can be resolved with medication.
Functioning Chest Pain
This condition is different from heartburn, because you feel pain in your chest but without a burning sensation. Functioning chest pain indicates spastic contractions of your esophagus, or the nerves in your esophagus are simply more sensitive than usual. Most treatments focus on relieving the pain itself – we’ll work with you to create a personalized plan.