While it may sound like a fancy piece of jewelry, a Schatzki ring is actually a medical condition that causes dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing. Oftentimes, minor swallowing problems occur when you don't chew your food well enough or you eat too fast. But if you persistently struggle swallowing or feel like food is stuck in your throat, alert your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Schatzki Rings and the Esophagus
According to the Mayo Clinic, many medical situations can interfere with swallowing. A Schatzki ring is one of them. Also referred to as a lower esophageal ring, a Schatzki ring is a 2 to 4 millimeter band of abnormal mucosal tissue that narrows the esophagus at the point where the esophagus meets the stomach. Schatzki rings may cause dysphagia and can make dry bread and meat especially difficult to swallow.
MSD Manuals states that these rings could be pill-induced, a result of acid reflux scarring or congenital — meaning present from birth. Symptoms don't usually appear until after age 25.
If you have persistent difficulty swallowing, your doctor or dentist may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist or a gastroenterologist. They will likely do a physical examination and conduct a series of tests to evaluate your condition.
One test involves your doctor taking X-rays as you drink a barium solution or swallow barium-coated food or a pill. This allows the doctor to observe the muscular activity and look for blockages in your throat.
In a dynamic swallowing study, the doctor takes images as you swallow foods of various consistencies, which show if food is properly traveling down your esophagus.
An endoscopy procedure provides a visual examination of the entire esophagus. The doctor passes a thin, flexible instrument down the throat and into the esophagus. This helps diagnose tumors and inflammation and can determine if there is a narrowing, such as a Schatzki ring.
CT or MRI scans can also give detailed cross-sectional images of bones, organs and soft tissues.
Treatment for Schatzki Rings
Abnormal tissues like Schatzki rings may be treated through esophageal dilation. Your doctor can insert an endoscope into your esophagus and then inflate an attached balloon to stretch the esophageal opening wider. Sometimes flexible tubes of various diameters are used instead. In addition, you may be prescribed medication to reduce stomach acids and be advised to avoid alcohol, tobacco and caffeine if your doctor feels that your ring was caused by acid reflux.
For most people, trouble swallowing is resolved by taking smaller bites of food and chewing slower. But if you are diagnosed with a Schatzki ring, keep in mind that it is treatable, and you should be eating easily again in no time.