A Zenker’s diverticulum (ZD) is a rare condition where an “outpouching” occurs where your throat meets your esophagus, the swallowing pipe that leads into your stomach.
When this happens, a pouch forms and mucous, food, and/or liquid can become stuck instead of going down your esophagus and into your stomach like normal.
If you have a ZD, you may experience:
ZD is most commonly caused by increased tension in the muscle at the top of your esophagus (called the cricopharyngeus muscle), which obstructs the proper passage of food and liquids into your stomach.
If you have any of the symptoms mentioned here, you should be examined by an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist, or otolaryngologist. Your ENT specialist may diagnose your condition using a “barium swallow” study. This is a special type of X-ray test that helps your doctor take a closer look at the back of your mouth, throat, and esophagus to see how you swallow food and liquid.
There are no current medications to treat ZD, so the usual treatment is surgery unless your ZD is small and doesn’t cause too much difficulty or discomfort. If your doctor recommends surgery, however, there are several options including making an incision on the neck, as opposed to a less-invasive approach through the mouth.
For open surgery, a small incision is made in the neck and the pouch is either removed or tacked upside down so that it doesn’t collect food. During this procedure the muscle below the ZD, your cricopharyngeus muscle, is cut to prevent recurrence of the ZD. Most patients stay in the hospital for a few days after surgery to recover from this procedure.
During an endoscopy or approach through the mouth to make repairs, there are no incisions on the outside of the neck. With this approach, a stapling device is used to divide the wall between the esophagus and the ZD to make a common cavity for food and liquid to flow directly into the esophagus without becoming stuck. Your doctor can discuss the pros and cons of each procedure and help you choose the best option for you.
Following surgery, you may notice:
You should call your ENT specialist if you experience any of these post-surgical symptoms:
Last reviewed August 2018.
Disorders that affect our ability to speak and swallow properly can have a tremendous impact on our lives and livelihoods. ENT specialists treat sore throat, infections, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), throat tumors, airway and vocal cord disorders, and more.
The information on ENThealth.org is provided solely for educational purposes and does not represent medical advice, nor is it a substitute for seeking professional medical care.
Think you need to consult an ENT specialist? Find someone with the expertise and location that’s best for your needs.
Learn how to stay ENT healthy, prevent problems, and manage existing conditions to improve your, or a loved one’s, daily life.
Find out more about the community of physician experts who can help you to Be ENT Smart and how the information was developed.