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What Is a Perforated Esophagus?


Updated October 20, 2010

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What Is a Perforated Esophagus?


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Question: What Is a Perforated Esophagus?

The esophagus is the tube of smooth muscle that moves food from the back of the throat (pharynx) to the stomach. A perforated esophagus has a hole in it. This results in the leaking of food and sometimes even digestive fluid into the chest, and it can result in a serious infection. Causes of a perforated esophagus include:

  • procedures such as an EGD
  • ingestion of hazardous chemicals
  • injuries such as gun shot or stab wounds (rare)

Signs and symptoms of a perforated esophagus include:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • rapid breathing and heart rate
  • fever

You need immediate medical attention if you suspect that you may have a perforated esophagus.

Perforation of the esophagus is fairly uncommon but can be quite serious. The condition often requires surgery and antibiotics. A mild perforation in the upper portion of the esophagus may heal without surgery, but patients are often instructed not to eat or drink and may require nutrition from a feeding tube or IV until the esophagus heals. In some cases, an endoscopic procedure to place stents or clips can be used in this situation.


University of Maryland Medical Center. Esophageal Perforation. Accessed: September 29, 2010 from http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/000231.htm

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