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Learning About Esophageal Stricture

Esophagus with detail of narrow section

What is an esophageal stricture?

A stricture is a narrowing in one area of the esophagus, the tube that carries food and liquid to your stomach. It most often happens close to where the esophagus meets the stomach. A stricture can make it hard to swallow. You may feel like food gets stuck in your esophagus.

If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach acid can flow backward into the esophagus. This can damage the lining of your esophagus and cause a stricture.

Other things that can cause a stricture include:

  • Surgery, radiation, or other treatments on the esophagus.
  • Some diseases and infections.
  • Reactions to some chemicals or medicines.

How are strictures diagnosed?

Your doctor may check your esophagus if you are having trouble swallowing or if you feel like food is getting stuck. The doctor will use a tool called an endoscope, or scope. It's a thin, flexible, lighted viewing tool. It goes into the mouth and down the throat. Your doctor can use it to check for any problems. The scope can also be used to take a sample of tissue to test (biopsy).

You might need an X-ray. For the X-ray, you may need to swallow a substance, such as barium, that makes it easier to see what happens in your esophagus.

How are strictures treated?

Strictures are usually treated with a procedure called esophageal dilation. Dilation can open up narrow areas of the esophagus.

Before the procedure, you will get medicines through a needle in your vein (I.V.) in your arm or hand. These medicines reduce pain and will make you feel relaxed and drowsy. Your throat will also be numbed. You may not remember much about the treatment.

The doctor will guide a balloon or a plastic tool for widening (dilator) down your throat and into your esophagus. The dilator is used to widen any narrow area.

To guide the dilator, the doctor may use a scope. Or he or she may use a thin wire as a guide.

After the procedure, you will be observed for 1 to 2 hours until the medicines wear off. If your throat was numbed before the test, you should not eat or drink until your throat is no longer numb. When you are fully recovered, you can go home.

Ask your doctor when you can drive again. Your doctor will tell you when you can go back to your usual diet and activities. Do not drink alcohol for 12 to 24 hours after the test.

You may still need to treat some symptoms of GERD. Your doctor may give you information about that.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

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