(See also Overview of the Esophagus Overview of the Esophagus The esophagus is the hollow tube that leads from the throat (pharynx) to the stomach. Food does not just fall through the esophagus into the stomach. The walls of the esophagus propel food to... read more .)
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 diaphragm (4) and lower esophageal sphincter (5) and moves into the stomach.
A problem with any of these functions can cause 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 (dysphagia), heartburn, chest pain Chest or Back Pain Pain in the middle of the chest or upper back can result from disorders of the esophagus or from disorders of the heart or aorta ( see Chest Pain). Symptoms may be similar. Gastroesophageal... read more , regurgitation Regurgitation and Rumination Regurgitation is the spitting up of food from the esophagus or stomach without nausea or forceful contractions of the abdominal muscles. Rumination is regurgitation with no apparent physical... read more (the spitting up of food from the esophagus or stomach without nausea or forceful contractions of abdominal muscles), vomiting Nausea and Vomiting in Adults Nausea is an unpleasant feeling of needing to vomit. People also may feel dizziness, vague discomfort in the abdomen, and an unwillingness to eat. Vomiting is a forceful contraction of the stomach... read more , or aspiration of food (sucking food into the airways when inhaling).
Disorders of the throat also can cause problems with the movement of food ( see Propulsion Disorders of the Throat Propulsion Disorders of the Throat Propulsion disorders of the throat can cause trouble moving food from the upper part of the throat into the esophagus (the hollow tube that leads from the throat [pharynx] to the stomach). People... read more ).
The main causes of abnormal propulsion of food are movement (motility) disorders of the esophagus. The most common disorders include
Sometimes, disorders that affect the whole body also affect movement of the esophagus. Examples include systemic sclerosis Systemic Sclerosis Systemic sclerosis is a rare, chronic autoimmune connective tissue disorder characterized by degenerative changes and scarring in the skin, joints, and internal organs and by blood vessel abnormalities... read more and Chagas disease Chagas Disease Chagas disease is an infection caused by the protozoa Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted by the bite of a kissing bug (also called an assassin or Triatominae bug). The protozoa ... read more .
Doctors use various methods to diagnose movement disorders of the esophagus. Methods include endoscopy 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 with biopsies, barium swallow x-rays X-Ray Studies of the Digestive Tract X-rays often are used to evaluate digestive problems. Standard x-rays ( plain x-rays) can show some blockages or paralysis of the digestive tract, or abnormal air patterns in the abdominal cavity... read more , manometry Manometry Manometry is measurement of pressure within various parts of the digestive tract. People must not eat or drink anything after midnight before the test. In this test, a flexible tube with pressure... read more , and acid reflux tests Acid-Related and Reflux-Related Tests Acid-related and reflux-related tests are used mainly to diagnose acid reflux into the esophagus (the hollow tube that leads from the throat to the stomach). Tests may use a monitor on a small... read more , and impedance planimetry Impedance Testing Impedance testing is a type of test that uses a probe that inflates a balloon inside the esophagus and measures how much pressure it takes to expand it a certain amount. An esophagus that is... read more .
Treatment of abnormal propulsion of food depends on the cause.