A diverticulum is an outward bulge that forms in a weak area of the wall of an organ. When a diverticulum forms in the esophagus, it is referred to as an esophageal diverticulum. An esophageal diverticulum can develop in individuals of all ages, but most commonly forms in middle-aged and elderly adults.

A diverticulum is classified based on its location in the esophagus:

  • Pharyngoesophageal diverticulum: A diverticulum that forms just above the esophagus, in the back of the throat. This type of esophageal diverticulum is also referred to as Zenker’s diverticulum.
  • Midthoracic diverticulum: A diverticulum that forms in the part of the esophagus located in the mid-chest area.
  • Epiphrenic diverticulum: A diverticulum that forms in the esophagus just above the diaphragm.

Symptoms of Esophageal Diverticulum

Since esophageal diverticula develop over the course of years, symptoms can develop slowly and may include:

  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
  • Regurgitation of food or liquid
  • A chronic cough or a cough that does not go away
  • Aspiration pneumonia (pneumonia that is caused by breathing in regurgitated food or liquid)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Neck pain
  • Bad breath

Causes of Esophageal Diverticulum

The exact cause of esophageal diverticulum is not known. However, scientists believe that these structural abnormalities develop when the constant motion of the muscles in the esophagus to move food and liquid from the throat to the stomach affect a weak area. Over time, as food is pushed along the esophagus, this weak area can stretch and expand outward, forming a diverticulum.

What to Expect at Your Appointment

During your appointment, your doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms as well as provide a complete medical history. In order to diagnose an esophageal diverticulum, your doctor may prescribe a barium swallow test. A barium swallow test is a type of x-ray imaging test that requires patients to drink a liquid solution containing barium sulfate. This mixture coats the inside of the esophagus and makes structural abnormalities more prominent on an x-ray image.

Non-Surgical Treatments for Esophageal Diverticulum

In most cases, treatment is not necessary for esophageal diverticula. However, in cases of a large diverticulum, or where the diverticulum causes severe symptoms, surgical resection of the diverticulum may be required.

Surgical Treatment for Esophageal Diverticulum and Post-Treatment

The goal of surgical treatment for an esophageal diverticulum is to remove the diverticulum, eliminate symptoms, and restore proper function to the esophagus. An esophageal diverticulum can be treated using the various procedures. The type of procedure recommended will depend on the size of the diverticulum and the severity of symptoms presented.

Immediately following surgery, patients will be moved to the recovery unit and monitored for any complications. Patients may be required to follow a specific diet following surgery, before returning to a normal diet. Recovery time will vary for each patient, depending on the complexity of the surgery and the patient’s overall health.

Make an Appointment

For an appointment with a specialist, call 202-877-3627.