Health Tips for Seniors

Archive for May, 2006

Diseases of the Esophagus

Cancer of the Esophagus, occurs mostly in men, beyond the fifty-year age level. It grows slowly here to gradually obstruct the esophagus and make swallowing progressively more painful and difficult. At first, difficulty is slight, but as the growth enlarges, it becomes more painful to swallow solid foods. To avoid pain, the diet is often changed to soft or liquid items, but with further obstruction of the swallowing tube by the tumor growth, even liquids eventually produce pain in swallowing. Finally, when nothing can be swallowed, and food intake is diminished, weight loss begins, and anemia, fever and extreme weakness soon follow.

Treatment of cancer in the esophagus demands relief from the swallowing obstruction. This can be achieved by surgical means or certain forms of x-ray therapy. Such treatment requires exceptional skill and should always be placed in the hands of a physician experienced in this field.

Fig. 42. Stricture, blocking the esophagus or swallowing tube, is usually due to cancer when it begins after the age of 50, but accidental swallowing of lime or other corrosive liquids also may cause stricture. Surgical correction of the stricture is necessary to allow food to pass.

Heartburn (Esophagitis). Heartburn is a sharp, burning chest pain beginning slowly an hour or so after eating and growing to feel eventually like a knot inside of the chest. It is caused by stomach acids backing up into the esophagus, to create a painful irritation and possibly scar formation which may eventually cause stricture destruction of the swallowing tube. The painful irritation is frequently thought to be a heart attack and causes real alarm, but its name “heartburn” is used only because of its chest position, and drinking milk, green tea, soda or even plain water produces almost miraculously quick relief. This relief is obtained because the swallowed foods wash down the stomach acids from the esophagus and relieve the irritation.

Heartburn is very simple, both in cause and in temporary treatment, but some of its complications, such as stricture formation, may create complex medical problems requiring skilled medical or surgical treatment.

Fig. 43. Heartburn is caused by stomach acids backing up into the esophagus. The resulting pain is felt in the chest and may become severe. It is often thought to be a heart attack.

Examining the Internal Chest and the Esophagus

Examination of the Internal Chest

The internal chest must be examined without the aid of sight or touch. Therefore, the heart, lungs and esophagus are examined by determining how well they are functioning. From their working, we know their condition.

Fig. 41. The open chest reveals the close heart and lung relationship. With no waste space, the chest holds and protects the vital organs necessary for life. Many chest diseases are now accessible to surgery and other therapy.

Examination of the Esophagus

The function of the esophagus (swallowing tube) is to carry swallowed nourishment from the throat into the stomach, and nearly all esophagus difficulties interfere with the swallowing act.

1. Swallow an ordinary glass of water. Normally done easily, pain or vomiting may be due to a far-advanced obstruction. It is possibly a stricture, diverticulum or cancer.

2. Swallow some soft food, as cereal or mashed potato. These are normally carried down the esophagus without sen
sation. The appearance of pain may also indicate an obstruction which is not complete.

3. Swallow a piece of solid food, such as meat or soft rolled bread. Normally, solid food can be felt passing down the esophagus painlessly. Pain with this act may indicate cancer or esophagitis (heartburn).

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