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An esophagus ulcer is an open sore that forms on the lining of the esophagus, the tube that goes from the throat to the stomach. Some people who have an esophagus ulcer experience nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or chest pain. The most common causes are gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), anti-inflammatory medications, smoking, herpes, and human papillomavirus.
Patients with an esophagus ulcer often experience recurring problems. Over time, these ulcers can cause the esophagus to narrow, causing painful and difficult swallowing. Barrett's esophagus can develop in patients who have recurring ulcers in the esophagus caused by GERD. Barrett's esophagus is a condition where the lining of the esophagus changes, causing chest pain, heartburn, bloody vomit, and difficulty swallowing.
Esophagus ulcers are usually diagnosed by x-ray after the patient drinks a barium solution that allows the doctor to see the outline of the digestive tract clearly. Endoscopes, flexible tubes with a camera and a light, can also be inserted into the throat to look for ulcers. Once a patient is diagnosed, a doctor may check for GERD. GERD patients usually have to take medications and control their diet to help relieve symptoms.
Citrus juices, cola, coffee, and alcohol can cause the stomach to produce more acid, increasing pain and other symptoms of ulcers in the esophagus. Tomato-based products, onions, garlic, and dressings containing vinegar should be avoided as well. Smoking can irritate an ulcer and increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Patients with an esophagus ulcer often experience increased pain and heartburn at bedtime. Taking an over-the-counter antacid can help relieve these symptoms, making it easier for patients to sleep. Prescription proton pump inhibitors can also help by reducing the amount of acid produced by the stomach, making it less likely that the acid will reach the esophagus.
Esophagus ulcers typically take a long time to heal. Most patients need to take prescription medications to reduce acid production for four to 12 weeks to allow the esophagus to mend. Even a small amount of acid that backs up into the esophagus can delay the healing process and cause recurring ulcers.
Patients who suffer from recurring ulcers in the esophagus may need surgery to correct the problem. Surgery is usually a last resort for people who are unable to effectively treat their ulcer symptoms with medication and lifestyle changes. Some patients who have surgery to repair or remove the esophagus experience complications including infection, bleeding, and reaction to the anesthesia.
Surgeons can perform an esophagectomy, which means they remove the damaged part of the esophagus and attach the remaining part to the stomach. Damaged esophagus cells can be removed with an endoscope and surgical tools. An inflatable balloon that burns the damaged tissue so that the esophagus can heal may also be used.