The oesophagus

The oesophagus is also known as the gullet or food pipe. It’s part of the digestive system, which is sometimes called the gastro-intestinal tract (GI tract). The oesophagus is a long, muscular tube that connects your mouth to your stomach.

It’s around 25cm (10in) long in adults. When you swallow food, the walls of the oesophagus squeeze together (contract). This moves the food down the oesophagus to the stomach.

The oesophagus and surrounding organs
The oesophagus and surrounding organs

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The upper part of the oesophagus is behind, but separate from, the windpipe (trachea). The windpipe connects your mouth and nose to your lungs, so you can breathe. The area where the oesophagus joins the stomach is called the gastro-oesophageal junction.

There are a number of lymph nodes close to the oesophagus.

The oesophagus has four layers:

  • The mucosa – the inner layer, which is moist to help food pass smoothly into the stomach.
  • The submucosa – this contains glands that produce mucus (phlegm), which keeps the oesophagus moist.
  • The muscularis – the muscle layer, which pushes food down to the stomach.
  • The adventitia – the outer layer, which attaches the oesophagus to nearby parts of the body.

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