Esophagus is derived from the Greek word 'oisophagus', 'oisein' meaning to carry and 'phagein', to eat. It is also called the swallowing tube or gullet. The length of the esophagus in a normal adult is 10 inches (25 centimeters approximately).
The location of this organ is between the windpipe (trachea) and the spine. It opens in the mouth and passes down the neck till the diaphragm, joining the upper end of the stomach. There are a number of glands lining the inner wall of the esophagus that help in keeping the passage moist and also facilitate in swallowing.
Vital Functions of the Esophagus
The esophagus is a vital part of the digestive system and plays a major role in transporting food, saliva and liquids to the stomach. Here are a few of the important functions of the food pipe.
► The main function of the esophagus is to transport food from the mouth to the stomach. This esophagus function is carried out by a layer of muscles, lining the wall of the esophagus, called sphincters.
► The food is transported to the stomach by a series of contractions caused by sphincters. Food in the mouth is carried to the esophagus by peristalsis, a process where muscles contract to push food through the esophagus to the stomach. When this process occurs, the muscles or sphincters automatically close in order to stop food from returning to the mouth.
► Apart from this function, sphincters also release certain enzymes that help in the partial digestion of food. Even if the person is lying down or is upside down, sphincters enable the food to be pushed into the stomach.
► There are two parts of the sphincters, the upper esophageal sphincter and lower esophageal sphincter. The upper sphincter is usually closed, but opens when food or liquid is swallowed. The passage to the lungs is blocked when the upper sphincter is open, in order to prevent food or liquid from entering the lungs.
► The esophagus is connected to the stomach by the lower esophageal sphincter. The lower sphincter remains closed even at rest, thus preventing the contents from flowing back into the food pipe.
► When food is swallowed, upper esophageal sphincter relaxes to push the food into the upper esophagus. Food is further pushed into the lower esophagus by peristalsis. When food reaches the bottom, lower esophageal sphincter loosens up to transport food into the stomach.
Abnormalities Affecting the Esophagus
A proper diet is always good for the proper function of the esophagus. But over consumption of carbonated drinks, spicy food, etc. can lead to pain and discomfort. Symptoms that appear during this phase are chest pain, dysphagia or difficulty in swallowing and heartburn.
Another disorder that affects the function of the gullet is acid reflux disease or GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). The stomach releases certain acids during digestion. When the acid content increases, due to over consumption of spicy or hot food stuff, it irritates the esophageal lining.
This occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter that separates the stomach from the lower esophagus does not function properly. Ultimately, failing to prevent reflux when the muscles of the stomach contract.
A person suffering from GERD can undergo endoscopy in order to determine the presence of ulcers in the lining of the esophagus. A person suffering from intense pain and digestion issues can be recommended to follow GERD diet.