The esophagus is a muscular tube that carries food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach. If the esophagus is too narrow, swallowing problems can occur.
During an esophageal dilation, the doctor places a tube-shaped device into the esophagus to widen the narrow part. This procedure makes it easier to swallow and get proper nutrition.
Esophageal dilation is done to treat a narrowing in the esophagus, called a stricture. This happens when there is a build-up of scar tissue, which may be due to:
Esophageal dilation widens the esophagus. Some may need the procedure repeated within a year.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
Talk to your doctor about these risks before the procedure.
In the days leading up to the procedure:
Talk to your doctor about:
In some cases, general anesthesia will be used. This will block any pain and keep you asleep during the procedure. A local anesthetic may also be used to numb the esophagus, and a sedative will be given to relax you.
An esophageal dilation will usually be done along with an endoscopy. During an endoscopy, the doctor will place a slim, flexible tube into the mouth and then into the esophagus. The tube has a tiny light and a camera attached. This will allow the doctor to view your esophagus on a monitor.
An imaging technique called fluoroscopy may also be used, especially when the dilator is being placed. With fluoroscopy, x-rays images of your esophagus will be sent to a monitor for viewing.
After observing the stricture, the doctor will decide which type of dilator to use to stretch the stricture. These tube-shaped devices are available in different sizes and styles. Depending on how severe your stricture is, the doctor may choose a plastic dilator or a balloon dilator.
For the plastic type, the doctor will use a scope to place a guide wire into the esophagus. This will allow the doctor to place the dilator in the correct spot. The scope will be taken out, and a tapered dilator will be placed through your mouth and throat to the site of the stricture. Depending on your condition, the doctor may need to do this process several times using wider dilators.
If a balloon device is used, it will also be inserted using a scope. Once the dilator is in the correct position, the doctor will inflate the balloon to a certain size to widen the stricture.
You will be monitored in the recovery room. The hospital staff will check to make sure your gag reflex is working normally. The gag reflex is your body’s natural reaction when something too large enters the back of the throat. It is your body’s way to protect you from choking.
Do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away..
American Gastroenterological Association
American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
Eosinophilic esophagitis in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 11, 2015. Accessed June 30, 2015.
Esophageal dilatation. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia website. Available at: http://www.chop.edu/treatments/esophageal-dilatation#.VZLcV010zxM. Accessed June 30, 2015.
Esophageal dilation. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.upmc.com/patients-visitors/education/gastro/Pages/esophageal-dilation.aspx. Updated July 2013. Accessed June 30, 2015.
Esophageal dilation—frequently asked questions. World Labaroscopy Hospital website. Available at: https://www.laparoscopyhospital.com/esophagial-dilation.html. Accessed June 30, 2015.
Kafrouni M. Esophageal dilation. Memorial Hermann Esophageal Disease Center website. Available at: http://www.memorialhermann.org/digestive/esophageal-dialation. Accessed June 30, 2015.
Standards of Practice Committee, Egan JV, Baron TH, et al. Esophageal dilation.Gastrointest Endosc. 2006;63(6):755-760.
Systemic sclerosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated March 17, 2015. Accessed June 30, 2015.
Understanding esophageal dilation. American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy website. Available at: http://www.asge.org/PatientInfoIndex.aspx?id=392. Accessed June 30, 2015.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.