Sometimes the esophagus becomes narrow; this may be caused by acid reflux, which can scar the esophagus. Patients who have a narrowed esophagus tend to feel like food gets caught in the chest region. Other reasons for esophageal narrowing include excess tissues, esophageal cancer, radiation scarring, and other digestive disorders.

A doctor will dilate—or stretch—a narrowed area of your esophagus via endoscopy or with a weighted dilator. You will receive mild sedation (conscious sedation) during the procedure. Most patients won’t feel anything.

The purpose of esophageal dilation

Through dilating the esophagus, your doctor is able to dilate or stretch the part of your esophagus that has narrowed. The esophagus is a soft tube that transfers food and liquid from your throat to your stomach. If you have difficulty consuming food and experience pain due to the constriction of the esophagus, this procedure could be beneficial for you.

Injuries and changes to the tissue of the esophagus may cause damage and subsequent swelling. Upon healing, scar tissue can form in place of damaged areas. This resulting scar tissue can be hard and stiff, constricting the esophagus. A narrowed esophagus makes swallowing food difficult and uncomfortable. Food may feel “stuck” in the chest. Esophagus cancer, esophageal rings, any esophageal motility disorder, esophageal webs, scarring from radiation treatment, can also cause esophageal narrowing.

Prepare for the procedure

At least six hours before your examination, you should avoid drinking and eating anything. Inform your doctor of any medications you’re currently taking, especially aspirin products and blood thinners. Your doctor may suggest that you adjust dosage of some medications prior to your examination. Also inform your doctor of any medications that you’re allergic to, medical conditions, and whether you usually require antibiotics before dental procedures because you may need similar antibiotics prior to the esophageal dilation.

What to expect

Your gastrointestinal physician will dilate a narrowed area of your esophagus via endoscopy or with a weighted dilator. You will receive mild sedation during the procedure.

There are two ways your doctor can dilate your esophagus:

  • An endoscope will be passed through your mouth into your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. Your breathing will remain normal. Your doctor will decide whether to use a dilating balloon or plastic dilators in combination with a guiding wire to dilate your esophagus.
  • Or, a tapered dilating instrument will be passed through your mouth into your esophagus. X-rays may be used by your doctor during the esophageal dilation procedure to ensure accuracy.

After the procedure

After your esophageal dilation and a short period of observation, you can return to normal activities. Arrange for someone to give you a ride home due to the sedatives you will be given. When you feel that your throat is no longer numb and the aesthetics have worn off, you may drink water. Most patients don’t have any symptoms after their esophageal dilation and resume eating the day after. Some experience a slightly sore throat after the procedure that will only last until the next day.

Repeat dilations

Repeated dilations are required based on the degree and cause. This procedure can be repeated, therefore patients can have their esophagus dilated gradually, decreasing complication risks.