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The oesophagus and stomach

The oesophagus and stomach are part of the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is part of the digestive system. The digestive system helps the body break down food and turn it into energy.

The oesophagus (food pipe) is a long, muscular tube. The stomach is a hollow, muscular sac-like organ. The top part of the stomach joins to the end of the oesophagus and the other end joins to the beginning of the small bowel.

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What the oesophagus and stomach do

The oesophagus moves food, fluid and saliva from the mouth and throat to the stomach. A valve (sphincter) at the lower end of the oesophagus stops acid and food moving from the stomach back into the oesophagus.

The stomach stores food and breaks it down (digests it). Juices and muscle contractions in the stomach break down food into a thick fluid, which then moves into the small bowel. In the small bowel, nutrients from the broken-down food are absorbed into the bloodstream. The waste moves into the large bowel, where fluids are absorbed into the body and the leftover matter is turned into solid waste (known as faeces, stools or poo).

Layer of tissueIn the oesophageal wall
1. mucosa (moist innermost layer)made up of squamous cells (thin, flat cells)
2. submucosa (supports the mucosa)glands in the submucosa make fluid (mucus); this fluid helps to move food through the oesophagus
3. muscle layerknown as the muscularis propria; produces contractions to help push food down the oesophagus and into the stomach
4. outer layerknown as the adventitia; connective tissue that supports the oesophagus
Layer of tissueIn the stomach wall
1. mucosa (moist innermost layer)made up of glandular cells (column-shaped cells); produces fluids to help break down food and mucus to protect the stomach lining
2. submucosa (supports the mucosa)provides blood and nutrients to the stomach
3. muscle layerknown as the muscularis externa; produces contractions to help break down food and push it into the small bowel
4. outer layerknown as the serosa; a smooth membrane that surrounds the stomach

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed October 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Peter Blyth, Consumer; Jeff Bull, Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer Nurse Consultant, Cancer Services, Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, SA; Mick Daws, Consumer; Dr Steven Leibman, Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Prof Michael Michael, Medical Oncologist, Lower and Upper Gastrointestinal Oncology Service, and Co-Chair Neuroendocrine Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Royal Brisbane Hospital, QLD; Rose Rocca, Senior Clinical Dietitian: Upper Gastrointestinal, Nutrition and Speech Pathology Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Letchemi Valautha, Consumer; Lesley Woods, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.