About the Esophagus

As you swallow your food, muscles in your mouth and throat propel it to your esophagus, the tube that connects your throat to your stomach. Your esophagus, which is about 10 inches long, moves food from the back of your throat to your stomach.

Also located at the back of your throat is your windpipe, which allows air to enter and leave your lungs. When you swallow food, a flap of tissue called the epiglottis drops down over the opening of your windpipe. This allows food to enter the esophagus and not your windpipe.

If you drink or eat something too fast, or talk while eating, your epiglottis may not have a chance to close and food may go into your windpipe. This is what someone means when they say that your food "went down the wrong way".

When food enters your esophagus, muscles in its walls move in waves (known as peristalsis) to slowly squeeze the food through the esophagus to the stomach. During peristalsis, muscles behind the bolus of food contract, pushing the food forward, while muscles ahead of it relax, allowing the food to advance easily.

When the food reaches the lower end of your esophagus, pressure from the food signals a muscular ring (known as the lower esophageal sphincter) to open and let it enter your stomach. The sphincter then squeezes shut, which keeps the food and stomach juices from flowing back up into your esophagus.

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Last modified on: 30 June 2015

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