The esophagus is a tube that carries food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach. If it's too narrow, you may have problems when you swallow.

During an esophageal dilation, a scope is used to widen the narrowed part. This makes it easier to swallow and get proper nutrition.

Reasons for Procedure

The narrowing is called a stricture. This happens when there is a buildup of scar tissue because of:

Esophageal Stricture
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Possible Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems such as:

  • Bleeding
  • Chest pain
  • Breathing problems
  • Infection
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting—may include blood
  • Severe swelling in the middle part of the chest
  • Aspiration—contents from the stomach are inhaled into the lungs
  • Tear or hole in the esophageal lining—perforation

Your chances of problems may be higher for:

  • A smaller stricture
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Heart or lung problems

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

In the days leading up to the procedure:

  • Arrange for a ride.
  • Ask for help at home.
  • Don't eat or drink for 6 hours beforehand unless told otherwise.

Talk to your doctor about:

  • Any allergies
  • Any medicines you take. You may need to stop taking some medicines up to 1 week in advance.


In some cases, general anesthesia will be used. You will be asleep. A local anesthetic may also be used to numb the area first. A sedative may be given to help you relax.

Description of Procedure

An esophageal dilation will happen during an endoscopy. The doctor will place a tube into the mouth. It then goes down into the esophagus. The tube has a tiny light and a camera. This will allow it easier for the doctor to see certain structures.

Fluoroscopy may also be used. This is mainly done when a dilator is being placed. X-rays help the doctor see where the dilator is.

The doctor will decide which type of dilator to use when the stricture is found. There are many types of tube shaped devices. The doctor may choose a plastic or a balloon dilator. This will depend on how narrow the area is.

For the plastic type, a scope is used to place a guide wire into the esophagus. This will allow the doctor to place the dilator in the correct spot. The scope will be taken out. A tapered dilator will be placed through the mouth and throat to the site. The doctor may need to do this process many times using wider dilators.

If the balloon type is used, it will also be inserted using a scope. The dilator is placed in the correct position. The balloon is inflated to the size needed to widen the stricture.

Immediately After Procedure

How Long Will It Take?

About 15 minutes, but timing will depend on the size of the stricture

How Much Will It Hurt?

Anesthesia will prevent pain during the procedure. You will have a sore throat afterwards.

Post-procedure Care

At the Care Center

You will be watched by the healthcare staff while you recover. They will check to make sure your gag reflex is working as it should. The gag reflex keeps you from choking.

At Home

To help you get better faster:

  • You will need to take it easy for the first 24 hours. You will get care instructions from the healthcare staff.
  • If you were diagnosed with GERD, the doctor may advise you take certain medicines.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if any of these occur:

  • Signs of infection such as fever or chills
  • Coughing up blood or vomiting blood after you or your doctor expect it to stop
  • Pain in the esophagus
  • Problems when you swallow
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Breathing problems

If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.


American College of Gastroenterology

American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy


Canadian Digestive Health Foundation

Health Canada


Eosinophilic esophagitis in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated August 2, 2018. Accessed August 14, 2018.

Esophageal dilatation. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia website. Available at: Accessed August 14, 2018.

Esophageal dilation. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center website. Available at: Updated July 2013. Accessed August 14, 2018.

Esophageal dilation—frequently asked questions. World Labaroscopy Hospital website. Available at: Accessed August 14, 2018.

Kafrouni M. Esophageal dilation. Memorial Hermann Esophageal Disease Center website. Available at: Accessed August 14, 2018.

Systemic sclerosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated July 25, 2018. Accessed August 14, 2018.

Understanding esophageal dilation. American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy website. Available at: Accessed August 14, 2018.

Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD  Last Updated: 8/14/2018