What is Zenker's Diverticulum?
Diverticulum is a term used in the medical field that refers to a pouch-like tissue structure that forms abnormally. These pouch-like structures can develop throughout the human body's digestive system, including in the throat. Zenker's diverticulum refers to when one of the diverticulum forms in the area of the throat, between the pharynx and esophagus (near the top of the throat). Approximately 0.01 to 0.11 percent of the United States population is affected by Zenker's diverticulum, usually occurring in older adults.
Causes of Zenker's Diverticulum
The upper esophageal sphincter (UES) is a muscle that creates a barrier between the esophagus and pharynx. The UES is normally closed to prevent air from entering the esophagus (food pipe), but it opens after you swallow to permit chewed food or drink to pass through to the esophagus.
When the UES has a dysfunction, a Zenker's Diverticulum can develop. Specifically, when the UES fails to open properly, additional pressure is placed on the pharynx, forcing the pharynx out, causing the pouch-like tissue structure, or Zenker's Diverticulum to form.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Zenker's Diverticulum
Common symptoms of Zenker's Diverticulum can include the following:
- Chronic or recurring cough
- Frequently feeling like food and liquid, "went down the wrong pipe", also known as aspiration
- Foul smelling breath
- Hoarse voice
- Feeling like there is a lump in your throat area
- Regurgitation of food
If you are experiencing recurring symptoms that are mentioned above, you should visit your ENT specialist for proper diagnosis. Diagnosis for a Zenker's Diverticulum usually involves a series of x-rays known as a barium swallow. During a barium swallow, you will ingest a chalky substance (barium) that will allow your doctor to observe the mouth, throat, pharynx, UES, and esophagus. Your ENT specialist may also use an endoscope to view the esophagus and UES.
Treatments for Zenker's Diverticulum
Treatment options for Zenker's Diverticulum can often include the following:
- For milder cases of Zenker's Diverticulum, your ENT specialist may suggest making adjustments to your eating habits, such as taking smaller bites, chewing more, and eating smaller quantities to see if the diverticulum will heal on its own.
- For more severe cases of Zenker's Diverticulum, surgery options to remove or repair the Zenker's Diverticulum.