Esophagus pain can be particularly troubling to both its sufferers and health care professionals, not only because of the discomfort that it causes, but because it can easily be mistaken for a cardiac condition or emergency. The causes of esophagus pain vary considerably, and it can be a symptom of a treatable condition such as acid reflux disease or something as serious as cancer. Inflammation of the esophagus and esophageal spasms are also potential culprits. Individuals who experience chest or esophagus pain should always seek medical attention in order to rule out serious problems and get treatment that can prevent a minor condition from becoming a major health threat.
Inflammation of the esophagus, also known as esophagitis, is a common source of esophagus pain and has many different causes. Causes of esophagitis include the over-consumption of very hot and spicy foods, a lowered immune system, and frequent vomiting, as well as some medications and esophageal ulcers. Problems with yeast-overgrowth, also known as candidiasis or thrush, can cause dysphagia, or difficulty in swallowing, and contribute to esophagus pain. Dysphagia caused by candidiasis is a common source of esophagus pain in those living with HIV and AIDS. In some cases, the esophagus itself may be torn or damaged.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common condition in which acid from the stomach regurgitates into the esophagus and irritates its membranes, and is a well-known cause of esophagitis. In addition to the discomfort caused by GERD, it carries with it the risk that its sufferers develop a condition known as Barret's esophagus, in which the lining of the esophagus becomes similar to that of the intestines. This condition carries with it a heightened risk of esophageal cancer. A hiatal hernia can also allow stomach acid into the esophagus. Both conditions can often be treated with lifestyle changes, over-the-counter or prescription drugs, or, in some cases, surgery.
Esophageal spasms are a less understood cause of esophagus pain. These are involuntary contractions that can cause pain and difficulty swallowing or may even cause a sufferer to regurgitate food. The reasons for esophageal contractions are not known, but they appear to be a dysfunction of the normal contractions that regularly occur in the esophagus during the process of swallowing food. This disruption can cause severe, sudden pain, or the contractions may be more diffused. Like GERD or hiatal hernia, esophageal spasms can be treated with lifestyle changes, medications, and, in very severe cases, surgery to sever the muscles that cause the spasms.