What are esophageal spasms?

A muscular tube that connects the throat and stomach, the esophagus can be affected by several different conditions. About eight inches long, the esophagus also contains the lower esophageal sphincter and upper esophageal sphincter. The upper esophageal sphincter keeps food from entering the windpipe, while the lower esophageal sphincter keeps stomach acid from entering the esophagus. While heartburn and GERD and more well-known conditions associated with the esophagus, esophageal spasms are another condition involving pain or discomfort in the chest area. Defined as an unexpected and uncoordinated contraction of the esophagus muscles, esophageal spasms affect how food moves through the digestive tract. While esophagus spasms are not necessarily dangerous, they can lead to a condition called esophageal dysphagia, which results in difficulty swallowing.


What are the causes and symptoms of esophageal spasms?

While the exact cause of esophageal spasms is unknown, many believe it could be related to abnormal nerve function controlling the muscles. Esophageal spasms can make moving food to the stomach difficult. One type of esophageal spasms is called distal esophageal spasms, which is related to the regurgitation of stomach contents. The other type, hypercontractive esophagus, is associated with the twisting of the esophagus. Risk factors for developing esophageal spasms include having anxiety, depression, or high blood pressure. Those with GERD or that are over sixty are also more likely to suffer from esophageal spasms. Esophageal spasms’ symptoms include the feeling of something being stuck in the throat, regurgitation, difficulty swallowing food and drinks, and chest pain. Those with chest pain may mistake the symptoms for heart pain.


What is the diagnosis and treatment like for esophageal spasms?

To diagnose esophageal spasms, a doctor may order esophageal manometry testing, x-rays, or an upper endoscopy. These tests can both help to diagnose esophageal spasms as well as rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. Treatment for esophageal spasms can vary. Depending on the esophageal spasms’ severity and frequency, a doctor may recommend avoiding extremely hot or extremely cold foods. They will also look at managing any underlying conditions that could be contributing to the development of esophageal spasms. In addition, they can also prescribe medications that can help to relax the swallowing muscles, and if medication is not effective, perform surgery. A minimally invasive technique, peroral endoscopic myotomy, is available for the treatment of esophageal spams – but is usually only considered if another treatment is not effective.

If you are experiencing the symptoms of esophageal spasms, talk to your doctor about your treatment options.