Infectious Esophageal Disorders

The esophagus, which extends from the mouth to the stomach, can be infected by bacteria, fungi or viruses.

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Symptoms

Esophageal infections can cause:

  • Fever
  • Heartburn
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen glands
  • Painful swallowing
  • White patches or ulcers on the tongue or throat

Causes and Risk Factors

The most common fungal infection in the esophagus is caused by Candida albicans. Normally present in the mouth and esophagus, it causes an infection under certain conditions, including:

  • Having poor immunity, as do people with AIDS or cancer
  • Having been treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy to the chest

The most common viral causes of esophageal infections are herpes simplex, chicken pox virus and cytomegalovirus. These are normally only a problem in patients with poor immunity.

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Diagnosis

Taking the patient's medical history, performing a physical examination and taking a culture of the throat can usually identify these infections.

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Treatments

Treatment depends on the type of infection.

Antibiotics are given for bacterial infections

Antifungals are given for fungal infections. These include a nystatin suspension that is swished and swallowed, oral drugs or intravenous drugs.

Anti-viral drugs, such as acyclovir or gancyclovir, may need to be given intravenously for viral infections.