Esophagus – that little-talked-about massive organ in our body, without which the food cannot pass into our stomach – is really a fascinating organ. It is long and yet it is fast in its job. It is least cared organ and can face a number of diseases that can lead to life-threatening situations. In this article on esophagus facts, we are going to take a look at the organ’s jobs, structure etc. You may already know them and if you do, consider these facts as a refresher course for your memory!
Fascinating Esophagus Facts: 1-5
1. Esophagus is a long tube like structure through which food passes from pharynx to the stomach. It is commonly called as food pipe or gullet. Esophagus is derived from the Greek word Oisohagus, which means gullet.
2. It starts from pharynx, goes down through neck, thorax and diaphragm to ultimately open into stomach.
3. It travels behind the lower part of the larynx, trachea, heart and passes through diaphragm (where an abdominal cavity is present for the esophagus to pass) and an inch below the diaphragm lies stomach and there its journey ends.
4. In adults, the food pipe can be 8-10 inches in length and one inch in diameter. It is just not a hollow tube which is used for passing food from pharynx to stomach but it is made of muscles which contract to push the food towards the stomach. This movement of muscles is called Peristalsis.
5. Did you know that Peristalsis happens even if you are standing on your own head or hanging upside down like a monkey? However, trying this is not really a good idea.
Fascinating Esophagus Facts: 6-10
6. There is another process called as Reverse Peristalsis. It is the reverse of Peristalsis. Here the food moves from duodenum to stomach, travels all the way up to mouth through esophagus and is expelled out. We call that as throwing up or vomiting. It is also called as Retro peristalsis.
7. Peristalsis just doesn’t happen in the esophagus. It happens across the alimentary canal. The urge to defecate is also the result of Peristalsis.
8. Not just that it has muscles, it also has 2 sphincters (Sphincter is a circular muscle which allows any material to pass through it if relaxed and when contracted, it constricts the passage of the material). The first sphincter is present where the Esophagus starts. It is called as upper esophageal sphincter. It is voluntary sphincter meaning we can control this sphincter.
9. The second one is where it is connected to the stomach and as guessed, it is called as the lower esophageal sphincter. This one is involuntary. It cannot be controlled.
10. Each sphincter has its own function. The upper esophageal sphincter’s function is to control breathing, swallowing, belching and vomiting. The lower esophageal sphincter’s function is to prevent food from getting into esophagus again once it enters stomach.
Fascinating Esophagus Facts: 11-15
11. These sphincters are functional but they are different from other sphincters in one way. The esophageal sphincters do not have distinct thickenings like other sphincters.
12. You might have noticed that with little discomfort, you could swallow some large chunks of food. Thank your esophagus. It is highly flexible. Said that it doesn’t mean that you can push anything in your esophagus. It can also tear because of continuous vomiting or dry heaves.
13. Though the esophagus is long, it takes mere 7 seconds for the food to pass through from the esophagus to the stomach.
14. Esophagus is mostly taken for granted and most of the people never go for a checkup but just as any other organ esophagus is susceptible to many diseases and disorders. When the sphincters get weak, the stomach’s acid go up to the esophagus and damage its lining. This is called as GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease).
15. When the acid enters the esophagus, it causes a burning sensation in the chest, which sometimes is so intense that it is thought to be heart attack. Anxiety and stress also increase the risk of GERD. GERD can also cause ulcers.
Fascinating Esophagus Facts: 16-20
16. There is something called as Barrett’s Esophagus where the lining of the esophagus becomes akin to the lining of the intestine. If it is left uncured then it may lead to a rare type of cancer called as Esophageal Adenocarcinoma. Though there is no exact cause for this disease but having GERD increases the risk.
17. Esophageal spasms, also called as Nutcracker esophagus is yet another type of disease. These spams occur due to the unexplained muscle contractions of the esophagus. It can be very painful and if these spasms continue then it may lead to dysphagia or difficulty in swallowing.
18. Esophageal Varices occurs in the people who have cirrhosis (a condition where the liver doesn’t function properly because the liver is damaged for a long time). The veins (called as Varices) in the esophagus region bulges and cause a lot of pain and the person may, in rare cases, bleed to death.
19. Deep breathing reduces the chances of acquiring GERD to a great extent. It strengthens the muscles of esophagus. An Austrian study found that with breath-training exercises, the patients of GERD felt better just within 30 days.
20. Quitting smoking, controlling what is going in the esophagus, avoiding carbonated drinks, including a lot of veggies and fruits in your diet etc., keeps your esophagus healthy.