Zenker’s diverticulum is a pouch that forms at the back of the throat at the junction of the pharynx and the esophagus (the food passage to the stomach). The pouch causes problems with swallowing.
The growth is most common in people over the age of 60. However, physicians at Duke have seen patients in their 30s who have Zenker’s diverticulum.
The cause of Zenker’s diverticulum is unknown. The formation of the pouch does not appear to be hereditary. In many patients who have a Zenker’s diverticulum, other problems of the esophagus are present -- however, this is not always the case.
The most common symptom of Zenker’s diverticulum is difficulty swallowing food. Food may actually come back up out of the mouth several minutes to hours after eating.
Patients also suffer from choking, feeling mucus collecting in the throat, hoarseness, or bad breath. The symptoms can be quite embarrassing and debilitating.
In patients with symptoms suggestive of Zenker’s diverticulum, a very simple and safe x-ray called a barium swallow is performed.
Click the arrows below to browse through the slide show of barium swallow x-rays. For a larger version of a picture, click the image.
Endoscopic staple diverticulostomy (ESD) is a minimally invasive surgical procedure used to treat patients with Zenker’s diverticulum.
There are no other treatments available to treat patients with Zenker’s diverticulum effectively. Surgery is the only treatment that will permanently relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life for patients.
In patients who do not desire surgical treatment, alterations in diet may help lessen the side effects of the pouch. No medications are available that will treat Zenker’s diverticulum.
If Zenker's diverticulum is left untreated, patients will continue having difficulty swallowing.
The risks associated with having Zenker’s diverticulum are weight loss, malnutrition, and pneumonia caused by food entering the lungs from the pouch. Although uncommon, these can be life-threatening.
Call 919-684-3834 (local) or 800-385-3646 (toll-free) to make an appointment with a voice or swallowing specialist in the Triangle of North Carolina. We see patients from Durham, Raleigh, Cary, Chapel Hill, and beyond. Learn more about appointments with Duke Voice Care Center specialists.
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