The esophagus is part of the body’s digestive tract. The main function of the esophagus is to transport food from your mouth to your stomach.
The esophagus is an organ made up of two sphincters and a hollow tube. A sphincter is a muscle which covers an opening in your body.
The esophagus begins at the back of the throat, or pharynx. It runs down the middle of your body, next to your trachea until it reaches your stomach in the abdominal cavity.
The esophagus transports food to your stomach through the process of swallowing. Swallowing begins with the opening of the upper esophageal sphincter. This sphincter is very close to your larynx, or voice box. When the sphincter opens it pulls your larynx forward so that food can make its way into your esophagus more easily.
Once food is in your esophagus it doesn’t freefall into your stomach. Instead a series of muscles contract in a wave like pattern. This process is called peristalsis.
Unlike other organs, the esophagus does not absorb any food. Mucus is secreted while food is in the esophagus. This helps food travel down the esophagus while blocking absorption into the muscle wall.
When food has made its way to the end of your esophagus the lower esophageal sphincter will open and allow the food to enter the stomach.
Both the upper and lower esophageal sphincters are usually closed unless you are swallowing. The closing of the sphincters limits the amount of air that can enter your stomach, as well as stops stomach acids from enter your esophagus.
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid makes its way into your esophagus. This causes a burning like sensation called heartburn. Heartburn is very common and usually goes away on its own. Common treatments for heartburn include changes to your diet or over the counter medicines.
Some people also feel a sour taste in their mouth, and this is called acid indigestion. Acid indigestion occurs where stomach acids travel all the way up your esophagus and are tasted.
If heartburn happens more than twice a week, a more serious issue might be the issue. The most common disorder that affects the esophagus is called GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disorder. GERD is caused when the lower esophageal sphincter continually fails to close properly.
- The esophagus is the least complex system in the digestive system
- The esophagus is not free floating in your body, but anchored to your thoracic cavity with connective tissue
- Heartburn gets its name as the esophagus is located near the heart in your chest
- GERD is most common when lying down after eating