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Esophogeal Diseases

The esophagus is the muscular tube that extends from the neck to the abdomen and connects the throat to the stomach. Problems with the esophagus can cause painful and irritating symptoms.

WakeMed’s thoracic surgeons work in collaboration with other physicians, nurses and rehabilitation specialists to develop a personalized treatment plan for each patient dealing with an esophageal disease.

Our team offers experience and expertise in minimally invasive robotic and thoracoscopic (VATS) options for all our esophageal surgical procedures, which can shorten a patient’s hospital stay and recovery time.

Symptoms of Esophageal Diseases

Symptoms of esophageal diseases vary depending on the condition, and can include:

  • Belching
  • Blood in stool
  • Chest pain that comes and goes
  • Chronic cough
  • Constant sore throat, sour taste in your mouth or bad breath
  • Coughing at night
  • Heartburn that worsens or wakes you from sleep
  • Hoarseness
  • Painful or difficult swallowing
  • Pneumonia (from aspiration of food into the lungs)
  • Regurgitating food or saliva
  • Sensation of food stuck in your throat
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Vomiting

Types and Causes of Esophageal Diseases

The most common problem with the esophagus is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which a muscle at the end of the esophagus doesn’t close properly. This allows stomach contents to leak back, or reflux, into the esophagus and irritate it. Over time, GERD can cause damage to the esophagus.

Other common disorders treated by WakeMed thoracic surgeons include:

  • Achalasia
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Barrett’s esophagus
  • Esophageal diverticulum
  • Esophageal cancer

Diagnosing Esophageal Diseases

Doctors may use various tests to diagnose an esophageal disease. These include:

  • Biopsy
  • Esophageal dilation
  • Esophageal manometry
  • Upper gastrointestinal (GI) imaging series
  • Upper GI endoscopy
  • X-Ray exam

Treating Esophageal Diseases

Treatment for esophageal disease varies by condition. Some problems get better with over-the-counter medicines or changes in diet. Others may need prescription medicines or surgery.

WakeMed thoracic surgeons offer the following procedures. Whenever possible, a minimally invasive approach is used.

  • Diverticulectomy: A procedure to remove an esophageal diverticulum, a pouch that protrudes outward in a weak portion of the esophageal lining. This pocket-like structure can appear anywhere in the esophageal lining between the throat and stomach.
  • Esophagectomy: A surgical procedure to remove some or all of the esophagus and then reconstruct it using part of another organ, usually the stomach. Esophagectomy is a common treatment for advanced esophageal cancer and is used occasionally for Barrett's esophagus if aggressive precancerous cells are present. An esophagectomy may also be recommended for noncancerous conditions when prior attempts to save the esophagus have failed, such as with end-stage achalasia or strictures, or after ingestion of material that damages the lining of the esophagus.
  • Fundoplication: A procedure in which the upper curve of the stomach (the fundus) is wrapped around the esophagus and sewn into place so that the lower portion of the esophagus passes through a small tunnel of stomach muscle. This surgery strengthens the valve between the esophagus and stomach (lower esophageal sphincter), which stops acid from backing up into the esophagus as easily. This allows the esophagus to heal.
  • Heller myotomy: A laparoscopic surgical procedure used to treat achalasia. The Heller myotomy is essentially an esophagomyotomy, the cutting the esophageal sphincter muscle, that is performed laparoscopically.
  • Paraesophageal hernia repair: Most paraesophageal hernias can be repaired laparoscopically through the abdomen. When the paraesophageal hernias is large and most of the stomach resides in the chest cavity, the procedure is more complex procedure. WakeMed surgeons have the expertise and experience necessary to perform minimally invasive repairs of large paraesophageal hernias.

Make an Appointment

We welcome new patients. If you’d like to meet with one of WakeMed’s thoracic experts, please make an appointment by calling us at 919-231-6333.