Skip to main content

Oesophageal dilatation

An oesophageal dilatation is a procedure to widen a narrowed oesophagus

Theatre team perform an upper GI endoscopy and oesophageal dilatation
An oesophageal dilatation is a procedure to open a narrowed oesophagus (the tube that takes food from your mouth to your stomach).

During the procedure, a narrow, flexible tube called an endoscope is inserted into your oesophagus and a balloon is inflated to widen the narrowed area. This stretches your oesophagus and makes it easier for you to swallow.

Call or book online today to arrange a consultation to discuss private oesophageal dilatation with a consultant of your choice at Circle Health Group.

This page explains what oesophageal dilatation is, why you may need one, and what happens during the procedure.

Your consultant may recommend an oesophageal dilatation if your oesophagus is narrower than it should be (oesophageal stricture), making it difficult for you to swallow. Your oesophagus may become narrowed due to:

  • Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
  • Surgical scarring
  • Oesophageal cancer
  • Barrett's oesophagus
  • Hiatus hernia
  • Dysphagia
  • Eosinophilic oesophagitis
  • Achalasia

What are the benefits of oesophageal dilatation?

The main benefit of oesophageal dilatation is that it stretches your oesophagus and makes it easier for you to swallow. In some cases, you may need to have the procedure more than once to achieve the full benefit.

Are there any alternatives to oesophageal dilatation?

Currently, oesophageal dilatation is the only procedure available to stretch a narrowed oesophagus. If you are unable to swallow, there are alternative ways of feeding available. Your consultant will discuss these with you, if you cannot have, or do not want to undergo oesophageal dilatation.

At your first consultation, you will be seen by a consultant specialising in conditions affecting the digestive system, usually a consultant gastroenterologist or a consultant general surgeon. They will ask you about your symptoms, general health, and medical history. They will also perform a physical examination.

Your consultant may look at the results of any previous tests or scans such as an endoscopy, or they may arrange these on the day.

At Circle Health Group, your first appointment is very important as it's where we get to know you, discuss your expectations for treatment and encourage you to ask any questions you may have.

At the end of your appointment, your consultant will decide if an oesophageal dilatation is a suitable procedure for you based on your symptoms, medical history, and general health. They will explain the procedure to you, including how to prepare, what happens during the procedure, any possible risks, and complications, and what to expect during your recovery.

It is important to us that you are as well-informed and comfortable as possible before, during, and after your oesophageal dilatation, so please ask your consultant any questions you may have.

Your consultant will tell you everything you need to do to prepare for your oesophageal dilatation. If there's anything you're not sure about, or if you have any questions, call the hospital for advice. Being well-prepared will help to ease any anxiety you may have as well as allow your procedure and recovery to go more smoothly.

Before your oesophageal dilatation, tell your consultant about any medical conditions or allergies you have and any medication, including over-the-counter medicines you are taking.

Your consultant may tell you to stop taking some medications like blood thinners before your procedure. This is to reduce the risk of bleeding.

You will need to have a blood test around a week before your oesophageal dilatation. Your healthcare team will arrange this.

You will not be able to eat or drink anything for six hours before your oesophageal dilatation.

Oesophageal dilatation is carried out under sedation. This means you will be awake but feel relaxed and sleepy during the procedure.

You will need to remove any dentures and glasses before the procedure. You will be asked to lie on an examination couch on your left side.

Your consultant will use an anaesthetic throat spray to numb your throat. This is to minimise discomfort during the procedure.

A probe will be applied to your finger to monitor your oxygen levels and you will be given oxygen through small plastic tubes in your nostrils.

A mouth guard is placed between your teeth and your consultant passes a flexible tube with a camera called an endoscope down your throat.

Once the narrowed area is located, a catheter is passed down your throat and inflated. This may be done several times until your consultant feels the area has been sufficiently dilated.

The endoscope is then passed through the dilated area to examine the stomach and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine).

Oesophageal dilatation normally takes around 20 minutes.

Recovery from any type of surgery is different for everyone and depends on several factors such as your age, general health and whether or not there were any complications during your procedure.

Your consultant will be able to give you an estimated recovery timeline based on your individual circumstances.

After your oesophageal dilatation, you will be taken to the recovery room where you will be monitored closely until the effects of the sedation have worn off. You will need to stay in the recovery room for at least two hours before you are discharged.

How many nights will I need to stay in hospital?

Oesophageal dilatation is normally done as a day case, meaning you'll be able to go home later the same day.

Will I be able to drive home?

You will not be able to drive yourself home from the hospital after your oesophageal dilatation. Please make arrangements for someone to collect you from the hospital and stay with you for the first twenty-four hours after your procedure.

How soon can I go back to work?

The effects of the sedation may not wear off fully for around 24 hours after your procedure. After this period, you can go back to work whenever you feel ready.

How soon can I drive?

You should not drive for at least the first 24 hours after your oesophageal dilatation as the sedation may not have fully worn off.

When will I be back to normal?

You may have a sore throat, mild chest discomfort, and abdominal bloating after your oesophageal dilatation. This will resolve on its own within a few hours. If your throat is sore, sticking to soft food may help.

You may also feel sleepy, and lightheaded for around 24 hours after the procedure, which can make falls or accidents more likely. Take extra care and if possible arrange for someone to stay with you during this time.

Avoid the following for the first 24 hours after your oesophageal dilatation:

  • Driving or operating machinery (including ovens and kettles)
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Being by yourself
  • Caring for children or dependants
  • Signing important documents

Most people resume normal activities the next day after oesophageal dilatation.

Oesophageal dilatation is a normally safe procedure, but as with all medical interventions, there is a small risk of complications. Your consultant will explain all the possible risks and complications of oesophageal dilatation and answer any questions you may have.

Possible complications of any surgery include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Adverse reactions to the anaesthetic

Possible complications specific to oesophageal dilatation include:

  • Sore throat - resolves within a few hours to one day
  • Perforation (tear) of the oesophagus - this occurs in around one in three hundred cases and may heal on its own or require surgery to repair it
  • Chest infection

We answer some of your most commonly asked questions about oesophageal dilatation.

How long does it take to recover from oesophageal dilatation?

Most people are fully recovered from oesophageal dilatation after about 24 hours.

Can you eat normally after oesophageal dilatation?

Your healthcare team will let you know when you can eat and drink after your oesophageal dilatation. You will start with fluids and then a soft diet before progressing to normal foods. There may still be some foods you need to avoid after your procedure. You may not notice an improvement in your swallowing for a few days after your oesophageal dilatation.

Some things you can do during your recovery include:

  • Stick to a soft diet for the first 24 hours
  • Sit upright to eat
  • Take small amounts of food and chew thoroughly
  • Eat small, frequent meals

Is oesophageal dilatation painful?

During your oesophageal dilatation, you will be given sedation and a throat spray will be applied to your throat to numb the area. You should not feel any pain during the procedure. You may have a sore throat and mild chest discomfort after your oesophageal dilatation. This normally goes away by itself within a few hours, but please tell a member of the nursing staff if you experience pain or discomfort after your procedure.

At Circle Health Group, we have the experience and expertise to ensure the best possible care and outcome for our patients. As a patient with Circle Health Group, you can expect the highest standards of care including:

  • Flexible appointment times and locations that are convenient for you
  • The freedom to choose which hospital and consultant suit your needs
  • Personalised, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams
  • Private ensuite rooms as standard
  • A range of delicious healthy meals
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help you spread the cost of your care

If you would like to see a consultant or learn more about oesophageal dilation, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in April 2023. Next review due April 2026.

  1. UK Guidelines on oesophageal dilatation in clinical practice, BMJ Journals
  2. Oesophageal dilatation, Cancer Research UK
  3. UK Guidelines on Oesophageal Dilatation in Clinical Practice, British Society of Gastroenterology
  4. Having an oesophageal dilatation. Information for patients, Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust

Specialists offering Upper GI endoscopy and dilatation

View all specialists

{{ error }}

Find a specialist