The oesophagus’ role is to transport food from the mouth to the stomach. A closed sphincter valve between the oesophagus and stomach relaxes as food approaches allowing the food to pass through it into the stomach. The stomach job is to accept and store this food and then produce stomach acid and other digestive juices to break the food down into smaller, easier to digest fragments. The acid also kills bacteria contained in the swallowed food or saliva. Muscles in the wall of the stomach help to mix thoroughly the food and acid and finally push the partly-digested food down towards the small intestine. Some conditions of the upper digestive tract are included below:
Achalasia and oesophageal motility disorders
In achalasia and other oesophageal motility disorders, the coordinated transportation of food from the mouth to the stomach is disrupted. This leads to symptoms of food regurgitation, chest pain or heartburn, pain when swallowing or the feeling of a permanent lump in the throat. Dietary modifications and several medications can help relieve symptoms, and some disorders can be improved with oesophageal dilatation or botuliinum toxin via endoscopy or surgery.
The diagnosis of this potentially premalignant disorder of the oesophagus requires expert care. There are no symptoms. High risk individuals with “dysplasia” need close surveillance with regular gastroscopies to prevent oesophageal cancer.
Oesophageal and Stomach (Gastric) Cancer
Oesophageal and stomach cancers are malignant tumours found in the tissues of the oesophagus and stomach. They are two separate cancers that can develop in any part of either organ. There are different types of both cancers. They are usually slow growing over many years before any symptoms are felt. Treatment depends on their stage.
Heartburn (Gastro-oesophageal Reflux)
Gastro-oesophageal reflux occurs when the stomach contents, usually acid, backwashes into the oesophagus. Disturbing symptoms include heartburn, acid brash, indigestion, persistent cough, and swallowing problems. It is common. When symptoms interfere with daily life, most can get relief with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter treatments. Some need stronger medications or even surgery.
Gastroparesis is a disorder of the gastric nerves or muscles where the stomach cannot empty itself of food in the normal way. Symptoms include feeling sick, full or bloated when eating, vomiting and weight loss. Treatments including diet changes, medications and, in some cases, surgical procedures, can provide relief of symptoms.
Peptic ulcers were once a common and hard to treat cause of indigestion and pain. Today, in many, H pylori stomach infection is found. With a short course of treatment most can be cured. When H pylori gastritis is not cured with simple antibiotics, several other treatments can be highly effective.
With careful assessment, most swallowing disorders can be clarified and treated. Often speech therapy, lifestyle change or medication is enough. Occasionally oesophageal dilatation, “Botox” injection, surgery or percutaneous feeding gastroscopy is required.