Esophageal Disorders

Our Approach to Care

Esophageal disorders can affect your quality of life and pose serious health risks. From acid reflux to cancer, MaineHealth provides complete treatment for esophageal disorders. Our specialists include gastroenterologists, surgeons, oncologists and radiologists. They work with your primary care provider to coordinate the care you need. They treat problems of the esophagus in both adults and children.

What are Esophageal Disorders?

The esophagus is your body’s organ that moves food from the mouth to the stomach. Esophageal problems can cause heartburn, swallowing difficulties, or a feeling that food is stuck in your chest. The throat, lungs, and mouth can be affected, too.

Talk to your primary care provider if you are having digestive problems. You may need to schedule an appointment to see your provider or be referred to a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist, who provides evaluation and advanced care for digestive disorders in adults and children.

Conditions Treated

GERD is the short name for gastroesophageal reflux.

With GERD, stomach acid flows backward from the stomach into the esophagus. It is painful, with patients feeling heartburn. Patients often need to avoid alcohol, fatty foods and other substances that trigger GERD. Their doctors also may prescribe medicine.

Barrett’s esophagus is damage to the esophagus.

It usually happens from having GERD over a long period of time. People may have heartburn and chest pain, or no symptoms at all. Barrett’s esophagus is treated with medicine and sometimes surgery.

Swallowing problems also are known as dysphagia. Swallowing problems often are related to problems with the esophagus.

Swallowing problems most often affect infants, seniors, and people with neurological disorders.

Esophagitis occurs when the esophagus becomes swollen and irritated. GERD, allergies, some medications, and infections can cause esophagitis. Symptoms include pain in the chest and upper abdomen, pain swallowing, heartburn, belching, vomiting and difficulty swallowing.

Cancers of the esophagus often are linked to cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol use, or obesity.  

There may be no symptoms early on.  When symptoms develop they can include swallowing problems, weight loss, chest pressure, or worsening heartburn.

Hernias of the diaphragm also are can be called congenital diaphragmatic hernias (CDH). They are a birth defect.

There is an opening in the diaphragm that lets some other organs move into the chest area. The lungs are not able to fully develop. In some cases, there may be adult-onset of diaphragmatic hernia due to injury.

Obstruction or blockage in the esophagus usually is from injury or tumor growth.

Food and foreign objects also can block the esophagus. The backflow of stomach acid from GERD also may damage the esophagus. These conditions cause the esophagus to narrow, and it may be hard to swallow food. Patients undergo an endoscopy to diagnose a blockage.

The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center has an Aerodigestive Clinic for Children that treats complex problems affecting the airway, lung function and the GI tract.

Our youngest patients often can get care close to home. We have pediatric gastroenterologists who see patients in doctor’s offices in Oakland and Caribou.