Esophageal Strictures

An esophageal stricture is a narrowing of the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. Your child may develop a stricture if they have gastroesophageal reflux or eosinophilic esophagitis, if they have had surgery on their esophagus or if their esophagus is damaged from a caustic injury or other trauma. Some esophageal strictures are present at birth. These are called congenital esophageal strictures. An esophageal stricture can make it difficult for your child to swallow, a problem called dysphagia.

What are the signs and symptoms of esophageal strictures?

The main symptom of an esophageal stricture is difficulty swallowing. Strictures can lead to an inability to tolerate the body's own secretions, as well as feeding refusal, coughing and retching. Strictures can also cause pain when swallowing, regurgitation (spitting up food or liquids) and weight loss. If the stricture is the result of reflux, your child may also have signs of that, such as heartburn, chest pain or a sore throat.

What causes esophageal strictures?

Although some children can be born with congenital esophageal strictures, they are often the result of damage to the esophagus, such as that caused by:

  • Prior surgery on the esophagus
  • Caustic injuries to the esophagus, which can occur if your child ingests caustic substances such as lye, batteries or household cleaners
  • Eosinophilic esophagitis, an inflammatory condition that can trigger symptoms similar to GERD
  • Chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which occurs when stomach acid backs up into your child's esophagus. Over time, this acid can damage the lining of the esophagus and lead to the development of scar tissue

How we care for esophageal strictures

Esophageal strictures are typically treated with a procedure called esophageal dilation, during which a physician uses a small balloon to stretch open the scar tissue causing the narrowing in the esophagus. The clinicians in the Esophageal and Airway Treatment Center at Boston Children's Hospital also offer incisional therapy for esophageal strictures that are not resolved by dilatation. In this innovative treatment, a surgeon uses a highly advanced cautery knife to cut the scar tissue in specific ways to help open the stricture.