Esophageal Dilation

An esophageal dilation is a procedure that widens a narrowed part of the patient’s esophagus. A narrowed part of a patient’s esophagus can cause difficulty swallowing or feelings associated with acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD. An esophageal dilation will widen this problem area of a patient’s esophagus.

An esophageal dilation may be ordered by a physician for a number of reasons, mainly for treatment of various GI conditions. This procedure is typically ordered as a treatment after exploratory steps are taken to identify these:

  • Acid reflux
  • Chronic heartburn
  • GERD
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Webs or rings in the esophagus
  • Damage or scarring in the esophagus

During an esophageal dilation, the patient is sedated and the throat is numbed with an anesthetic. A narrow endoscope is inserted into the throat. From this point, there are 3 types of esophageal dilation procedures:

  1. Balloon dilation: A tiny empty balloon is slowly pumped with air inside the esophagus to cause the narrowed section to expand. Once the esophagus widens to an appropriate size, the balloon is deflated and removed.
  2. Guided wire dilation: A small wire is placed in the narrowed section of the esophagus to stretch the area.
  3. Bougies dilation: Bougies are small cones. The physician will add bougies of increasingly larger size until the esophagus is stretched to an appropriate size.

The entire procedure should not last more than 15 minutes and should not cause problems breathing.

Most medications can be taken as normal, but some will interfere with the esophageal dilation preparation or examination. Before the procedure, always be sure to mention any medications that are being administered, as the dosage could be changed temporarily for patient safety. Also mention any existing medical conditions or allergies, as it could significantly alter care. Aspirin products or antiplatelet agents, arthritis medication, anticoagulants (such as warfarin or heparin), clopidogrel, insulin, or iron products are cause for particular concern.

Prior to the procedure, there may be several necessary preparations, which a doctor or nurse will cover in further detail before the appointment. They will also cover instructions for post-procedure. A doctor or nurse will also explain follow-up appointment and scheduling.
Complications from an esophageal dilation are rare. Possible complications include a perforation or tear of the esophagus, which can result in bleeding. Other complications from sedatives can occur. Signs of possible complications can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Fever
  • Bleeding or black in stool

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