Odynophagia is the medical term for pain, caused by problems in the upper pharynx or esophagus, when swallowing food. This esophageal pain usually occurs when swallowing both liquid and solids, and it can get worse over time. The condition may be caused by a variety of health issues, including esophageal abnormalities, inflammation, infection and cancer. Consult your doctor if you experience esophageal pain when swallowing.
Diffuse Esophageal Spasms
Diffuse esophageal spasms, also called a corkscrew esophagus, is a disorder in which the esophagus has contractions that start spontaneously. People with this disorder experience pain both when eating food and when drinking. Very hot or very cold liquids can make the pain worse. To many people, the pain feels like a heart attack.
Esophagitis is an inflammation of the esophagus, and with eosinophilic esophagitis, there are many eosinophils in the mucous membrane that lines the esophagus. Eosinophils are white blood cells that mulitply when people have allergies, but reflux can also cause such an increase in cells. People with esophageal pain will be checked for allergies and reflux to rule out eosinophilic esophagitis.
Infectious esophagitis indicates that your esophagus has been infected by a fungus, virus, parasite or bacteria. Those with very impaired immune systems may have more than one type of infecting organism causing the infectious esophagitis. The Candida albicans fungus, herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2, varicella zoster virus, cytomegalovirus and HIV can all cause infectious esophagitis. A parasite called Cryptosporidium and the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria can cause it, as well.
Esophageal cancer causes approximately 13,900 deaths every year, according to Elliot Livstone, M.D., attending physician at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, in “The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals.” There are two main types of esophageal cancer. Adenocarcinoma develops in the lowest part of the esophagus in response to long-term reflux, when the stomach acid refluxes back to the esophagus. Squamous cell carcinoma, on the other hand, can develop in people who use tobacco and drink alcohol for a long time.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- “Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2011”; Stephen McPhee, M.D., Maxine Papadakis, M.D.; 2011
- “Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine”; Anthony Fauci, M.D., Dennis Kasper, M.D., Dan Longo, M.D. et al.; 2008
- The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals: Esophageal Cancer
- The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals: Motility Disorders
- WebPath: Barrett's esophagus with adenocarcinoma, endoscopy
- WebPath: Candida esophagitis
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Barrett's Esophagus