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7th July, 20212 min read

What causes an oesophageal rupture?

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Dr Adiele Hoffman
Last reviewed: 08/07/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Oesophageal Rupture

An oesophageal rupture is when your oesophagus (food pipe or gullet) tears. It’s a serious condition that needs emergency medical attention.

It usually happens when the instrument used for a procedure like an endoscopy accidentally makes a hole in your oesophagus.

It can also be caused by:

  • straining a lot, being sick a lot or swallowing a very big piece of food
  • swallowing something toxic like a button battery, household cleaner or battery acid
  • an ulcer in your oesophagus, which might be caused by acid reflux
  • past surgery on your oesophagus
  • a tumour or cancer in your oesophagus
  • a really bad injury to your chest

What are the symptoms of an oesophageal rupture?

If you have an oesophageal rupture you’re likely to have very bad chest, neck or tummy pain.

You might also have:

  • fever
  • vomiting or vomiting blood
  • problems swallowing or talking
  • pain in your shoulder or back
  • shortness of breath
  • a fast heart rate
  • dizziness or feeling faint

How is an oesophageal rupture treated?

An oesophageal rupture is an emergency and needs immediate treatment. If you think you have it, go to an emergency department or call an ambulance.

You’ll need to be admitted to hospital and will usually need an emergency operation to fix the hole or an endoscopy to put in a tube (a stent).

Other treatment may include:

  • not eating or drinking and being fed directly into your vein while your oesophagus heals
  • antibiotics to treat or prevent infection
  • medication to reduce the acid in your stomach
  • insertion of a tube into your chest to drain out any extra fluid or pus

If your oesophageal rupture is caused by another medical problem like cancer, your doctor will usually treat that.

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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.