Your esophagus is the tube that connects your throat and stomach. It plays an important role in digestion, by allowing food to pass into your digestive organs. Numerous conditions can cause irritation, swelling and pain in your esophagus, making it difficult to eat normally and, in some cases, alerting you to an illness in need of treatment. If your symptoms are severe or long-lasting, seek guidance from your doctor.
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Esophagus pain after eating may stem from a variety of conditions. One of the more common causes is gastroesphageal reflux disease, which involves frequent acid reflux, or the regurgitation of acidic stomach contents into your esophagus. Less common causes include achalasia, which reduces the ability of your esophagus to move food to your stomach, inflammation from herpes or Candida infections, and esophageal cancer. Taking certain types of pills without enough water with your meals can also trigger esophagus pain.
GERD is usually easy to diagnose, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Doctors can often base diagnoses on your dietary habits, current medications and your lifestyle habits. Other tests may include an upper endoscopy, in which a tube with a camera is inserted into your esophagus to observe signs of reflux and inflammation; X-rays; and a manometry, which measures the pressure of your esophageal valve. Endoscopic exams and X-rays can also help determine whether you have cancerous cells or tumors or signs of achalasia.
Because esophagus pain is a symptom and not an illness itself, treating the underlying cause is important. Medical treatment may involve medications, surgery or Botox injections, which relax your esophagus opening. Lifestyle measures, such as dietary changes, often accompany medical treatment. For mild cases of GERD, lifestyle changes alone may suffice.
Regardless of the cause, avoiding potentially irritating foods can help minimize esophageal pain. UMMC recommends avoiding acidic foods and beverages, such as citrus fruits, orange juice and coffee. Consuming fatty foods, such as fried foods, red meat and high-fat dairy products, and lying down after eating may worsen acid reflux and esophageal pain. Foods that support your body's ability to heal include fruits; vegetables; whole grains; nuts; seeds; and lean protein sources such as fish, tofu, egg whites and legumes. Replacing coarse foods, such as granola and crackers, with soft items, such as hot cereal, smoothies, nut butters, mashed potatoes and boiled eggs, may also help manage pain. Other important lifestyle changes may include stopping smoking, avoiding alcohol and managing your weight.