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Learning objectives

Working through this study unit will help you to:

  1. Identify the three parts of the esophagus.
  2. Describe its anatomical relations to surrounding structures.
  3. Become familiar with the arterial, venous and nervous supply of the esophagus.

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The esophagus is a muscular hollow organ that propels food from the pharynx to the stomach through peristaltic movements. Two muscular rings, the upper and lower esophageal sphincters, regulate the passage of food and liquids. The esophagus is located mainly in the mediastinum and is closely related to several surrounding structures. Based on its position, the esophagus can be divided into three parts: cervical, thoracic and abdominal.

The vascular supply of the esophagus mainly stems from the inferior thyroid artery, direct branches from the thoracic aorta, as well as the left gastric artery. Venous drainage is provided by esophageal veins, which are largely received by the azygos venous system and brachiocephalic veins. The esophageal plexus provides nervous supply to the esophagus via parasympathetic and sympathetic fibers. Lymph is drained to the deep cervical lymph nodes, regional lymph nodes (juxtaoesophageal lymph nodes), paratracheal, superior and inferior tracheobronchial lymph nodes, left gastric and coeliac lymph nodes.

Learn more about the esophagus, such as its divisions, innervation, blood supply, and lymphatics in the videos below:

Take a quiz

Solidify your knowledge by taking the following quiz.

If you fancy a challenge, our custom quiz is here to push you further! Try this quiz on the contents of the mediastinum, or customise it to suit your needs.

Browse atlas

Take a closer look at the anatomy of the esophagus in the gallery below.

Explore the lymphatics and neurovasculature of the esophagus in the gallery below.


Key points about the esophagus
Definition Esophagus is a muscular, tubular part of the gastrointestinal tract, connecting the pharynx to the stomach
Parts Cervical part: Between pharyngoesophageal junction and upper thoracic aperture
Thoracic part: Between upper thoracic aperture and esophageal hiatus
Abdominal part: Between esophageal hiatus and gastroesophageal junction
Function Propel food from pharynx to stomach through peristaltic movements
Neurovascular supply Arterial supply: Esophageal branches of inferior thyroid artery, esophageal branches of aorta, right intercostal arteries, esophageal branches of left gastric artery
Venous drainage
: Esophageal veins drain into inferior thyroid vein, azygos venous system, left gastric vein
via esophageal plexus: Parasympathetic innervation from vagus nerve (CN X), recurrent laryngeal nerve; sympathetic supply from cervical and thoracic sympathetic trunk and spinal nerves T5-T12
Myenteric plexus (of Auerbach) and submucosal plexus (of Meissner) embedded in esophageal wall play role in regulating peristalsis
: Deep cervical lymph nodes, regional lymph nodes (juxtaoesophageal lymph nodes), paratracheal, superior and inferior tracheobronchial lymph nodes, left gastric and coeliac lymph nodes
Relations Posterior: Vertebral column, distal part of descending thoracic aorta
: Trachea, left main bronchus, left atrium of heart
: Proximal part of descending thoracic aorta

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