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Esophageal Webs

(Plummer-Vinson Syndrome; Paterson-Kelly Syndrome; Sideropenic Dysphagia)

By Kristle Lee Lynch, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania

Esophageal webs are thin membranes that grow across the inside of the upper part of the esophagus and cause difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).

The esophagus is the hollow tube that leads from the throat (pharynx) to the stomach.

Although rare, esophageal webs occur most often in people who have untreated severe iron deficiency anemia. Why anemia is associated with the development of webs is unknown. Webs in the upper esophagus usually make swallowing solids difficult.

A barium swallow x-ray is usually the best procedure with which to diagnose the problem. In this procedure, people are given barium in a liquid before x-rays are taken. The barium outlines the esophagus, making abnormalities easier to see.

Once the iron deficiency has been treated, the web usually disappears. If not, a doctor can rupture it using a dilator or an endoscope.

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