Diagnosis and management of acute esophageal necrosis

Authors Emanuel Dias, João Santos-Antunes, Guilherme Macedo.


Acute esophageal necrosis is a rare syndrome classically characterized by a striking endoscopic image of diffuse and circumferential black mucosal discoloration of distal esophagus, with an abrupt transition at the gastroesophageal junction and variable proximal extension. The typical patient is an older male with general debilitation and multiple comorbidities presenting with hematemesis or melena. The pathophysiology usually involves a combination of esophageal ischemia, backflow injury from gastric chemical contents and impaired mucosal reparative mechanisms associated with debilitated physical states. It may arise in the setting of hemodynamic compromise, diabetic ketoacidosis, hypothermia, alcoholic intoxication, trauma, inflammatory diseases, esophageal local infection, solid organ transplantation, postoperative status, drugs or acute gastric outlet obstruction, usually in the background of a chronic debilitating process, where the concurrent presence of multiple risk factors, including diabetes mellitus, hypertension, malnutrition, malignancy or alcohol abuse, places a patient at higher risk. The characteristic endoscopic appearance establishes the diagnosis. Biopsy is supportive but not required. Management is mainly supportive and consists of correcting coexisting conditions, fluid therapy, bowel rest, intravenous proton pump inhibitor therapy and red blood cell transfusion as needed. Although this is a serious life-threatening condition, appropriate treatment may result in a favorable outcome in the majority of patients.

Keywords Acute esophageal necrosis, black esophagus, acute necrotizing esophagitis, gastrointestinal bleeding

Ann Gastroenterol 2019; 32 (6): 529-540

Review Articles