Esophagitis is a condition where there is inflammation of the lining of the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects the pharynx to the stomach. It is composed of a mucosal lining, longitudinal fibers, and circular smooth muscle fibers. Its function is to allow the passage of foods and liquids to the stomach through a series of wave-like movements or peristalsis.
There are several types of esophagitis. Gastroesophageal reflux disease is the most common cause of reflux esophagitis. In this disease, the gastric contents (i.e. acid) that are persistently regurgitated into the esophagus cause inflammation and erosion of esophageal mucosa. Several conditions (i.e. pregnancy) and lifestyle factors (i.e. medications, alcohol consumption) may increase the risk for this type of esophagitis. Conversely, esophagitis can also be caused by fungal and viral infections (i.e. Candida species). Infectious esophagitis is most commonly seen among patients with a compromised immune system (i.e. patients with AIDS). Furthermore, esophagitis can also be associated with pharmacologic therapies that include antibiotics (i.e. tetracycline), medications for osteoporosis (i.e. alendronate), potassium, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e. ibuprofen), and quinidine. Other etiologies of esophagitis include systemic illnesses (i.e. eosinophilic esophagitis), radiation therapy for chest tumors, and chemoradiation.
Although some cases of esophagitis can be asymptomatic, it can also cause various symptoms.
Symptom #1: Heartburn
Heartburn occurs when an individual has a burning sensation that is felt in the center of the chest. This uncomfortable sensation may even radiate to the neck or arm. Often, heartburn is worse after a meal, in the evening, or when lying down.
Heartburn is due to gastric acid regurgitation where there is backflow into the esophagus. Some may mistake the sensation as a symptom of a heart attack as they can be very similar. Cardiac disease should always be considered as a differential diagnosis in those with chest pain as it can be difficult to distinguish between acid reflux and cardiac-related chest pain. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience severe chest pain, especially if accompanied by pain in the arm or jaw and difficulty breathing.