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Zenker’s Diverticulum

Zenker’s diverticulum is a rare condition that makes it difficult to swallow food and liquids. In this disorder, a large pouch (c)alled a diverticulum develops in a weak area between the pharynx (throat) and upper esophagus (the food tube that reaches from the throat to the stomach). The pouch can interfere with swallowing, and food can get trapped it. Zenker’s diverticulum is more common in older people.

The cause of Zenker’s diverticulum is not completely understood. It may result from the esophagus producing excessive pressure to move food into the stomach or from a muscle (the cricopharyngeus muscle) that constricts the esophagus and does not relax properly during swallowing.


People with Zenker’s diverticulum experience a number of symptoms, including:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • The sensation that food is stuck in the throat
  • Painful swallowing
  • Food coming back up into the mouth (regurgitation), often hours after eating
  • Bad breath from food trapped in the pouch
  • Coughing from food regurgitated into the airway
  • Aspiration pneumonia from regurgitated food that is inhaled into the lungs.


Several tests are used to diagnose Zenker’s diverticulum:

  • Barium swallow. The patient drinks liquid barium, which coats the lining of the esophagus so that the diverticulum is defined clearly on x-rays.
  • Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. In this procedure, the physician passes a flexible tube (endoscope) into the esophagus. It is equipped with a light and camera to take pictures of the inside of the esophagus.


Several treatments are available for Zenker’s diverticulum, including the following:

  • Endoscopic procedures performed through the mouth. The physician uses a flexible tube outfitted with a camera, light, and miniature tools to reach the diverticulum.
  • Open surgery where the surgeon makes an incision in the neck, removes the diverticulum, and cuts the constricting muscle below the diverticulum.


You cannot prevent Zenker's diverticulum, but treatment options exist that are effective and safe.

Learn More About Diverticulum Services at Norton Thoracic Institute

To learn more about our services, call (602) 406-4000.