Signs and Symptoms of Esophagitis

In some cases, esophagitis does not cause symptoms (i.e., is asymptomatic). Inflammation of the esophageal lining often causes pain (often described as a burning sensation), difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), and acid reflux (heartburn or indigestion).

Signs of esophagitis include redness, swelling, and irritation in the lining of the esophagus. Infectious esophagitis also can cause high levels of white blood cells (e.g., leukocytes), which are used by the body to fight infection. This condition is called leukocytosis.

Severe esophagitis can cause ulcers (sores or lesions that may bleed) in the lining of the esophagus. Other symptoms include the following:

  • Abdominal pain (e.g., pain in the upper center of the abdomen [called epigastric pain] or behind the breastbone [called retrosternal pain])
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Persistent cough

Esophagitis complications include stricture formation (narrowing or constricting of the esophagus), perforation of the esophagus (formation of a hole through the esophageal lining), and severe esophageal bleeding.

Patients who are unable to eat or drink properly can develop malnutrition and/or dehydration. Esophagitis related to Barrett's esophagus can increase the risk for esophageal cancer.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 16 Apr 2008

Last Modified: 14 Sep 2015