Photo Quiz

An Anatomical Cause of Dysphagia


Am Fam Physician. 2020 Feb 15;101(4):241-242.

A 63-year-old man presented for a wellness visit where he reported worsening dysphagia for solids for the past two years. He also had sore throat, dyspnea, cough, heartburn, and wheezing. He did not have weight loss, hematemesis, melena, or chest pain. His medical history was significant for gastroesophageal reflux disease that responded to over-the-counter antacids.

Physical examination findings were normal. A barium study was performed (Figure 1).




Based on the patient’s history, physical examination, and esophagram findings, which one of the following is the most likely diagnosis?

A. Aortic arch aneurysm.

B. Congenital anomaly of the aortic arch.

C. Diffuse esophageal spasm.

D. Esophageal web.

E. Mediastinal mass.


The answer is B: congenital anomaly of the aortic arch. The barium esophagram shows a filling defect in the esophagus that was noted at the level of the aortic arch, suggesting a possible aberrant vessel of the aorta. Computed tomography (CT) confirmed an aberrant right subclavian artery that passed posterior to the esophagus. An aberrant right subclavian artery, or arteria lusoria, is present in 0.5% to 2.5% of the population.1 Dysphagia is the most common symptom, although only 10% of patients with the anomaly are symptomatic.2 The mean age of presentation is 50 years.3 Possible explanations for this patient’s later presentation include aging-associated stiffening of the esophagus and atherosclerosis of the vessel causing compression of surrounding structures.4

The patient was referred for vascular surgery. He underwent right carotid subclavian transposition followed by ligation of the aberrant right subclavian artery.

An aortic arch aneurysm

Author disclosure: No relevant financial affiliations.

Address correspondence to Robert P. Schneider, DO, at Reprints are not available from the authors.


show all references

1. Myers PO, Fasel JH, Kalangos A, et al. Arteria lusoria: developmental anatomy, clinical, radiological and surgical aspects. Ann Cardiol Angeiol (Paris). 2010;59(3):147–154....

2. Delap TG, Jones SE, Johnson DR. Aneurysm of an aberrant right subclavian artery presenting as dysphagia lusoria. Annals Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 2000;109(2):231–234.

3. Polguj M, Chrzanowski Ł, Kasprzak JD, et al. The aberrant right subclavian artery (arteria lusoria): the morphological and clinical aspects of one of the most important variations—a systematic study of 141 reports. Scientific World Journal. 2014;2014:292734.

4. Janssen M, Baggen MG, Veen HF, et al. Dysphagia lusoria: clinical aspects, manometric findings, diagnosis, and therapy. Am J Gastroenterol. 2000;95(6):14110–1416.

This series is coordinated by John E. Delzell Jr., MD, MSPH, associate medical editor.

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