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How Long Is The Esophagus (And Why)?

Exact Answer: 18 To 25 Centimetres Long

The esophagus, or also known as the oesophagus in British English is the pathway for food between the pharynx and stomach. The common name for the esophagus is food pipe because it is in the form of a cylindrical pipe-like structure through which the food, or technically known as a bolus, passes down to the stomach. The reason behind how food passes down the esophagus to the stomach is because of the peristaltic movement done by the walls of the esophagus. 

The esophagus begins from the pharynx region, then travels behind the tracheal region and the heart. After that, the esophagus passes through the diaphragm and ends into the uppermost part of the stomach separated by a lower esophageal sphincter. The lower sphincter of the esophagus majorly helps to prevent acid reflux of stomach content and prevent cases like vomiting. 

How Long Is The Esophagus?

Different Stages Of LifeLength
Embryological stage0.2 cm
Infant stage0.8 cm to 1 cm
Young children15 cm to 18 cm
Adults20 cm to 25 cm

The length of an esophagus is about a minimum of 8 inches to a maximum of 10 inches long on average. Although at different stages of life the length of the esophagus also varies. It is quite obvious that as the age of the person increases, the body develops in size, so does the esophagus. Therefore, depending upon the age of the person, the size of the esophagus varies.

The length of the esophagus at an embryological stage of a child is only about 2 mm long, which is equal to 0.2 cm. Moreover, at the time of birth, and in infants, the length of the esophagus ranges between 80 mm to 100 mm long, or the length of the esophagus can also be stated as 0.8 cm to 1 cm long. In young children, the length of the esophagus is about a minimum of 15 cm to a maximum of 18 cm long. Lastly, in adults, the length of the esophagus is about 20 cm to 25 cm long.

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Why Is The Esophagus That Long?

To know the reason behind why the esophagus is that long, it is important to understand the basic level anatomy of the esophagus. The esophagus is majorly divided into three different parts, that are, the upper esophageal sphincter, the esophagus, and lastly the lower esophageal sphincter. 

The upper esophageal sphincter is a muscular cartilaginous structure situated at the beginning of the esophagus which marks the entry of food or the bolus into the esophagus. It is majorly comprised of three parts that are:

  • The posterior surface of the thyroid known as the cricoid cartilage
  • The hyoid bone
  • Three muscles

The three muscles are in the upper esophageal sphincter area known as:

  • Cricopharyngeus
  • Thyropharyngeus
  • Cranial cervical esophagus

The thyropharyngeus muscle of the upper esophageal sphincter is oriented diagonally, whereas the second muscle that is the cricopharyngeus muscle is oriented obliquely. Between the thyropharyngeus muscle and the cricopharyngeus muscle, a zone of sparse musculature known as The Killian’s triangle is located. Zenker’s diverticulum emerges from Killian’s triangle.

The lower esophageal sphincter is located at the point where the esophagus marks the ending of the esophagus and the beginning of the stomach for food or the bolus to enter. The lower esophageal sphincter has two units or also known as components, that are as follows:

  • an intrinsic component
  • an extrinsic component

The esophagus is mainly a path for food or the bolus from the pharynx to the stomach. Majorly, there are three distinct regions of the esophagus, that are:

  • the cervical region
  • the thoracic region
  • the abdominal region
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Conclusion

The major function of the esophagus is the swallowing of food. The esophagus provides the chewed food a pathway so that it can reach the stomach and then undergo further digestion. The chewed food, also known as a bolus, is passed from the mouth. When the bolus is swallowed, it first passes into the pharynx and then further into the esophagus. The food stays in the esophagus for about 2 to 3 seconds until it is passed completely to the stomach.

References

  1. https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJM198608073150605
  2. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMcp012118