Merck Manual

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Overview of Esophageal Obstructions

By

Kristle Lee Lynch

, MD, Perelman School of Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania

Reviewed/Revised Feb 2024
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In most cases, the cause is

Narrowing may also occur when something presses against (compresses) the outside of the esophagus. Compression can result from a number of causes, such as

Because all these conditions decrease the diameter of the esophagus, people who have one of them usually have difficulty swallowing Difficulty Swallowing Some people have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). In dysphagia, foods and/or liquids do not move normally from the throat (pharynx) to the stomach. People feel as though food or liquids become... read more solid foods, particularly meat and bread. Difficulty in swallowing liquids develops much later, if at all.

Diagnosis of Esophageal Obstruction

  • Upper endoscopy

  • Biopsy

  • Barium swallow x-rays

To diagnose a blockage in the esophagus, doctors do an upper endoscopy. In this procedure, doctors examine the esophagus using a flexible tube called an endoscope Endoscopy Endoscopy is an examination of internal structures using a flexible viewing tube (endoscope). In addition to examinations, doctors can use endoscopy to do biopsies and give treatment. Endoscopes... read more . During the endoscopy, doctors take tissue samples to analyze under a microscope (called a biopsy).

Treatment and outcome depend on the cause of the narrowing or blockage.

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