Caustic injury of the upper gastrointestinal tract: a comprehensive review

World J Gastroenterol. 2013 Jul 7;19(25):3918-30. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v19.i25.3918.


Prevention has a paramount role in reducing the incidence of corrosive ingestion especially in children, yet this goal is far from being reached in developing countries, where such injuries are largely unreported and their true prevalence simply cannot be extrapolated from random articles or personal experience. The specific pathophysiologic mechanisms are becoming better understood and may have a role in the future management and prevention of long-term consequences, such as esophageal strictures. Whereas the mainstay of diagnosis is considered upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, computed tomography and ultrasound are gaining a more significant role, especially in addressing the need for emergency surgery, whose morbidity and mortality remains high even in the best hands. The need to perform emergency surgery has a persistent long-term negative impact both on survival and functional outcome. Medical or endoscopic prevention of stricture is debatable, yet esophageal stents, absorbable or not, show promising data. Dilatation is the first therapeutic option for strictures and bougies should be considered especially for long, multiple and tortuous narrowing. It is crucial to avoid malnutrition, especially in developing countries where management strategies are influenced by malnutrition and poor clinical conditions. Late reconstructive surgery, mainly using colon transposition, offers the best results in referral centers, either in children or adults, but such a difficult surgical procedure is often unavailable in developing countries. Possible late development of esophageal cancer, though probably overemphasized, entails careful and long-term endoscopic screening.

Keywords: Caustic ingestion; Corrosive stricture; Developing countries; Endoscopic management; Surgical management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Burns, Chemical*
  • Caustics / adverse effects*
  • Colon / transplantation
  • Endoscopy, Gastrointestinal
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Esophageal Stenosis / chemically induced*
  • Esophageal Stenosis / diagnosis
  • Esophageal Stenosis / therapy
  • Humans
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures
  • Prevalence
  • Upper Gastrointestinal Tract / injuries*


  • Caustics