Understanding Esophageal Dilation

What Is the Esophageal Dilation Procedure?

In order to stretch or widen your esophagus, your doctor will need to perform a procedure called “esophageal dilation.” Your physician can make this procedure more comfortable for you by spraying the back of your throat with a local anesthetic before inserting the weighted dilator into your mouth. This procedure may also accompany an endoscopy when you will be sedated.

Why Do I Need to Have This Done?

The esophagus is a muscular tube that carries food and drink from your mouth to your stomach. The esophageal dilation procedure becomes necessary when it’s difficult for you to swallow your food because of an obstruction. Most people experience this narrowing because acid reflux from frequent heartburn caused scarring in the esophagus. When scarring is present, swallowing becomes difficult, and people feel as if food particles remain within their chests. The sensation is highly uncomfortable and can even cause pain.

Sometimes, there is excess tissue called “webs” or “rings” that obstruct the esophagus. Cancerous tumors, scarring due to radiation therapy and a movement disorder called a “motility disorder” are less common causes of an esophageal stricture or narrowing.

How Do I Prepare for the Esophageal Dilation Procedure?

To have the best experience and ensure that the procedure proceeds safely, you will need to have an empty stomach before you present yourself at your doctor’s office. This means that you must not eat or drink anything at least six hours before you are scheduled to have esophageal dilation done. Your doctor will let you know exactly how long he or she wants you to fast.

Your physician will need to know a few things about the medications you are taking before this treatment can be performed. If you are taking blood thinners or aspirin, make sure that you let your doctor know. If it is necessary, your physician may adjust your medications, but most of the time, you will be able to keep your regular schedule.

It will be important for your doctor to know that you are allergic to any medications or that you are suffering from a medical condition. If you are required to take antibiotics before you have dental procedures, this is important information for your physician as well. He or she may need you to take antibiotics before you can submit to the esophageal dilation procedure.

What Will Happen During Esophageal Dilation?

Sometimes, the esophageal dilation procedure is performed along with an upper endoscopy. If this is the case for you, you will be sedated before the procedure begins. Your doctor might spray the back of your throat with a local anesthetic and then administer sedatives. Then, you will be ready for your physician to pass the instrument into your mouth and down your throat. You will be able to continue breathing normally.

Once inside the esophagus, your doctor will dilate the constricted area with either a dilating balloon or a plastic dilator. You shouldn’t feel any pain, but you may feel slight pressure against your throat or in your chest while the procedure is going on.

In a variation of this procedure, your physician begins by anesthetizing your throat. Then, he or she uses a tapered dilating instrument to dilate your esophagus. In the process, he or she may take X-rays of the area.

What Happens After the Procedure?

Most likely, you will only need to be observed for a short period of time after the procedure is over. Then, you can return to your normal life. You may be able to drink fluids again after the anesthetic wears off. Your doctor will let you know. You aren’t likely to experience any side effects from this procedure other than a mild sore throat that will only last for about a day. You should be able to eat solid foods the next day.

Those who are sedated during this procedure will need to be observed in recovery before they are cleared to go home. Even though you may not feel different, you are not going to be allowed to drive, so make sure that you have a ride after this procedure is over. Sedatives can alter your judgment, and they can also slow down your reflexes, so it would be unsafe for you to operate a vehicle.

Are There Any Complications Related to This Procedure?

Patients who have the esophageal dilation procedure performed by a doctor who is specifically trained in this area rarely experience any complications. However, problems can occur just like with any other medical procedure, but they are highly unlikely. In a minimal number of instances, the esophagus becomes perforated, and these patients may need surgery to correct the issue. In some cases, bleeding occurs when the esophagus becomes torn. Sometimes, patients experience side effects from the sedatives.

Although complications are rare, some conditions increase their likelihood, such as obesity and smoking. Diabetes and heart and lung disease also contribute to the possibility of difficulties after this procedure. If there are going to be any complications from this treatment, you may experience some early signs. Let your physician know right away if you notice any of the following symptoms after your procedure:

  • Black stools
  • Blood in the stools
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fever
  • Chest pain

Will I Need to Have This Procedure Done Again?

It depends on why you needed this procedure to be done the first time. The amount of narrowing can also determine whether or not you will need to have esophageal dilation again, but it is not unusual for one patient to have this procedure done several times. This way, your doctor can expand your esophagus in small increments so that complications will be less likely to occur.

After your doctor has managed to dilate your esophagus entirely, esophageal dilation will no longer be necessary for you. In the event that your esophagus became scarred because of acid reflux, you can prevent repeat procedures by taking acid-suppressing medications. Your doctor will educate you on this issue.