As the body gets nourishment from food, the esophagus function is to bring the food and liquids into the stomach as well as prevent them from flowing back up. Foods are transported to the stomach by coordinated muscle contractions of the esophageal wall. These contractions occur automatically and are important for daily living.
However, problems related to esophagus function may occur and cause discomfort. Those who are affected may complain about chest pain, heartburn and difficulties in swallowing as well as other uncomfortable symptoms. Esophagus problems may start mild but could aggravate to serious, even life-threatening conditions. That is why sufferers should visit the doctor if esophagus-related chest pain lingers for more than a couple of weeks.
What is the Esophagus ?
The design and structure of the esophagus enables it to perform its function in a coordinated and efficient manner. This particular component of the digestive system is approximately 10 inches long and is squeezed in between the spine and windpipe with the upper end connected to the throat and the other end to the stomach. Pink tissues or mucosa line the inner part of the esophageal wall to keep it moist so food can pass through easily.
The esophagus is primarily made up of muscles and has two parts; the upper and lower esophageal sphincters. Esophageal sphincter muscles play a vital role in esophagus function. The esophagus originated from the Greek words ‘oisein’ and ‘phagein’ which mean to carry and eat. It is known for various names such as gullet, swallowing tube and food pipe.
Function of the Esophagus
Esophagus function is largely involved in transporting food to the stomach while ensuring that stomach acids won’t flow back into the esophagus. The sphincters are particularly noteworthy in the functioning of the esophagus. They likewise release enzymes to partially digest food.
- Upper sphincters
As the name implies, these are muscles on the upper part of the esophagus which are connected to the throat. They open up when eating, belching, breathing and vomiting. The opening at the upper esophageal sphincter when swallowing food or liquid closes the windpipe to keep food or liquid from escaping into the lungs. It also works in preventing food or stomach acids from flowing back to the throat.
- Lower sphincters
These refer to the layer of esophageal muscles on the lower end of the esophagus that is connected to the upper part of the stomach. Lower esophageal sphincter opens to allow food and liquid to reach the stomach and closes to prevent stomach acids and other contents from flowing upwards.
When food or liquid enters the mouth, the upper esophageal sphincter opens up to allow food or liquid to pass through the esophagus. Both esophageal sphincters contract to allow the food to travel all the way to the stomach. After which, the lower esophageal sphincter closes to prevent the backward flow of food and stomach acids to the mouth.
Factors that affect optimum esophagus function
Any disruption to the normal functioning of the esophagus results in pain and discomfort. The disruption could come from any or a combination of the following:
- Eating spicy or greasy foods
- Drinking alcoholic and carbonated drinks
- Digestive problems
- Inflammatory disorders affecting other digestive structures
- Malfunctioning stomach
Problems with the esophagus function are usually manifested by a burning sensation in the chest or throat, heartburn, belching and swallowing difficulties. The severity and duration of esophagus-related discomforts vary widely. Some may develop the symptoms after eating certain foods, while others may slowly develop the symptoms but these eventually become persistent.
The chances of having esophagus function problems are high among people who have the following risk factors:
- Weakened immunity
- HIV patients
- Bone marrow or blood cancer
The function of the esophagus can also be disrupted by drinking inadequate amounts of water after taking certain types of medicines or pills.
Conditions due to problems with the esophagus function
The entire body will suffer when the esophagus does not function normally and will result in esophageal disorder. Among these diseases include:
- Esophageal ulcer
- Esophageal varices
- Esophageal Achalasia
- Esophageal dysphagia
- Barret’s esophagus
- Epiphrenic diverticulum
- Cricopharyngeal incoordination
- Esophagus cancer
Treating problems involving Esophagus function
The underlying cause of esophagus problem should be determined so treatment can be effective. The doctor will run a series of esophagus function tests to check the severity of the problem. He or she may conduct esophageal pH monitoring, barium swallow or upper endoscopy. Treatment for esophagus disorder may involve:
- Esophageal dilation or variceal banding
- Laser endomicroscopy
- Surgery or esophagectomy
Healthy diet is the key for maintaining optimum esophagus function. Spicy or greasy foods, junk foods as well as carbonated and alcoholic drinks are bad for the esophagus. Replacing these offending foods with nutrient-rich foods are important to keep the esophagus healthy.