Black esophagus: report of six cases and review of the literature, 1963-2003

Dis Esophagus. 2006;19(2):105-10. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-2050.2006.00549.x.


Black esophagus is the uncommon endoscopic finding of extensive black discoloration of the esophageal mucosa, usually from acute esophageal necrosis. Six cases of black esophagus were seen at Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minnesota, USA) from 1997 through 2003, and 46 cases were reported in the English-language literature from 1963 through 2003. We studied the demographics, clinical features, and outcomes of these 52 cases of black esophagus. Age and sex were known for 50 patients: the mean (SD) age was 65 years (19), and 42 patients (84%) were men. Symptoms were known for 51 patients: the most common symptom was upper gastrointestinal tract bleeding, occurring in 40 patients (78%). All 52 patients had at least one comorbid condition (with most having two or more), including duodenal ulcer in 17 (33%), cancer in 15 (29%), renal insufficiency in 15 (29%), and diabetes mellitus in 14 (28%). The suspected cause of black esophagus was reported for 40 patients: ischemia in 22 (55%); massive gastroesophageal reflux in seven (18%); and esophageal infection (Lactobacillus acidophilus, herpes simplex, Candida albicans) in four (10%). Most patients received supportive therapy, particularly acid suppression therapy. Of the 47 patients for whom outcomes were known, 17 (36%) died. There were no statistically significant differences between survivors and non-survivors. Black esophagus typically occurs in older men with at least one comorbid condition; a substantial number of patients die. Although the underlying mechanism leading to black esophagus is unknown, clinicians caring for patients with black esophagus should focus on optimizing perfusion, minimizing acid reflux, and treating esophageal infection if present.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Esophagoscopy
  • Esophagus / blood supply*
  • Esophagus / pathology*
  • Female
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / complications*
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / complications*
  • Humans
  • Ischemia / complications*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Necrosis / diagnosis
  • Necrosis / etiology
  • Necrosis / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome