Merck Manual

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Quick Facts

Esophagus

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Sep 2019| Content last modified Sep 2019
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Your digestive system breaks food down into separate nutrients that fuel your body.

Your digestive tract (also called the gastrointestinal or GI tract) is the hollow tube that food goes through when you swallow it, digest it, and then pass the waste products as stool.

What is the esophagus?

The esophagus is part of your digestive tract. It is the "food pipe" that connects your throat and your stomach. Food and liquids don't just slide down your esophagus by gravity. Your esophagus is lined with muscles that push food and liquids down.

Other muscles go around the upper and lower ends of your esophagus like rings. These muscles, also called sphincters, close off the esophagus so your stomach contents can't flow back into your esophagus or throat.

How the Esophagus Works

As a person swallows, food moves from the mouth to the throat, also called the pharynx (1). The upper esophageal sphincter opens (2) so that food can enter the esophagus, where waves of muscular contractions, called peristalsis, propel the food downward (3). The food then passes through the lower esophageal sphincter (4) and moves into the stomach (5).

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