The oesophagus

The oesophagus (gullet) is a muscular tube. It connects your mouth to your stomach.

What is the oesophagus?

The oesophagus (gullet) is part of the digestive system, which is sometimes called the gastro-intestinal tract (GI tract). The oesophagus is a muscular tube. It connects your mouth to your stomach.

When you swallow food, the walls of the oesophagus squeeze together (contract). This moves the food down the oesophagus to the stomach.

The upper part of the oesophagus is behind the windpipe (trachea). The windpipe is the tube that connects your mouth and nose to your lungs, so you can breathe. Below your lungs is a layer of muscle called the diaphragm. It helps you to breathe. Most of your oesophagus sits above the diaphragm in your chest.

The bottom part of the oesophagus is below the diaphragm. The place where the oesophagus joins the stomach is called the gastro-oesophageal junction. 

The oesophagus has four layers:

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

The oesophagus and surrounding organs

Oesophageal cancer and lymph nodes

Oesophageal cancer can sometimes spread to the lymph nodes close to the oesophagus. If you have surgery to remove oesophageal cancer, your surgeon will usually remove some lymph nodes to check for cancer cells.

We have more information about oesophageal cancer.