Eosinophilic esophagitis in adults: an emerging problem with unique esophageal features

Gastrointest Endosc. 2004 Mar;59(3):355-61. doi: 10.1016/s0016-5107(03)02713-5.


Background: Eosinophilic esophagitis is an inflammatory condition in which there is dense eosinophilic infiltration of the surface lining of the esophagus. Reports of eosinophilic esophagitis pertain almost exclusively to pediatric populations. However, eosinophilic esophagitis is emerging as a clinical affliction of adults. This report describes the clinical and endoscopic findings of eosinophilic esophagitis in the largest cohort of adult patients reported to date.

Methods: Twenty-nine patients (21 men, 8 women; mean age 35 years) with documented eosinophilic esophagitis (>/=15 eosinophils per high-power field in biopsy specimens) and a significant history of chronic dysphagia for solid food (24 patients) were evaluated clinically and endoscopically during a 3-year period (1999-2002). Fourteen patients (48%) had a history of asthma, environmental allergy, or atopy. In a subset of 15 patients, the diagnostic accuracy of endoscopy was compared with that of barium contrast esophagography.

Results: Twenty-seven patients (93%) had abnormal endoscopic findings; 25 (86%) had unique esophageal structural changes, associated with a preserved mucosal surface, that were highly atypical for acid reflux injury. Structural alterations seen in adult patients with eosinophilic esophagitis may occur in combination or as a primary characteristic, e.g., uniform small-caliber esophagus, single or multiple corrugations (rings), proximal esophageal stenosis, or 1 to 2 mm whitish vesicles scattered over the mucosal surface. Barium contrast radiography combined with swallow of a barium-coated marshmallow identified 10 (67%) of the primary features observed endoscopically in 15 patients. However, radiography failed to detect other features noted at endoscopy (e.g., only 3/6 patients with proximal stenosis, 5/9 patients with concentric rings and none of 4 patients with small caliber esophagus). Eight of the 29 patients (20%) had a history of chronic heartburn. Twelve patients had been treated with a proton pump inhibitor and only 3 reported some improvement in the severity of dysphagia.

Conclusions: Relatively young age, a history of chronic dysphagia for solid food, and endoscopic detection of unique structural alterations atypical for GERD in an adult patient should prompt a suspicion of EE and subsequent biopsy confirmation. Acid reflux appears to have a secondary role in eosinophilic esophagitis. In an uncontrolled comparison, endoscopy was superior to barium contrast radiography for the diagnosis of eosinophilic esophagitis. The incidence of eosinophilic esophagitis in adults appears to be increasing.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Barium Compounds
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Cohort Studies
  • Eosinophilia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Eosinophilia / epidemiology
  • Eosinophilia / pathology*
  • Esophagitis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Esophagitis / epidemiology
  • Esophagitis / pathology*
  • Esophagoscopy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Radiography / methods
  • Registries
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Distribution


  • Barium Compounds