Esophageal ulcer is an excavation which is strictly limited to mucous membrane of the esophagus or it affects deeper layers of this organ. It occurs due to stomach acid which enters esophagus and causes irritation of its mucous membrane. Inner layer of esophagus has no protection against stomach acid unlike the stomach. This is why the exposure to this acid can easily cause formation of esophageal ulcers.
Esophageal ulcers typically occur in people suffering from gastroesphageal reflux disease. However, even though this is the leading cause of esophageal ulcers it is not the only medical condition which leads to esophageal ulcers. Barrett's ulcer is a chronic ulcer which occurs because certain parts of esophageal mucous membrane have changed so that typical esophageal epithelium is switched with one that is normally found in the stomach. Other causes of esophageal ulcer include prolonged usage of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and smoking.
Symptoms of Esophageal Ulcers
The presence of esophageal ulcer most commonly features with dull or burning pain. This pain is characteristic for all peptic ulcers. The pain may be localized at the back of the breastbone or it may radiate towards the neck, throat, and upper part of the chest or in extreme cases towards facial area. The pain may last from few minutes to even several hours and it is usually intermittent.
When they are healing ulcers tend to form scar tissue. This scar tissue may cause narrowing of the esophagus leading to additional symptoms and signs such as difficulties with swallowing. In the beginning, the patient may complain about problems with swallowing of the solid food and in severe cases they may even have difficulties swallowing liquids. In rather rare cases patients may experience breathing difficulties.
Additional symptoms of esophageal ulcers are sore throat and excessive production of saliva.
Some ulcers may be so deep that they affect underlying blood vessels and cause bleeding. Bleeding is not so common symptom of esophageal ulcer. It is more a complication of esophageal ulcer. The blood originating from the esophagus is mixed with the stool giving it the black coloration. In severe bleeding one may even vomit blood.
Weight loss and changes in appetite can also occur but they are not so typical for esophageal ulcers.
Treatment for Esophageal Ulcers
The symptoms of esophageal ulcer can be successfully alleviated with antacids, H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors. They all reduce production of stomach acid or neutralize its harmful effects. But this is only temporary solution. One may be advised to change his/ her diet and eliminate all the factors which may contribute to increased production of stomach acid and recurrence of the ulcers.