What Are the Symptoms of Achalasia?

What Are the Symptoms of Achalasia?

The tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach is the esophagus or food pipe. Achalasia makes it harder for the esophagus to move food into the stomach.

Causes

There is a muscular ring at the point where the esophagus and stomach meet. It is called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Normally, this muscle relaxes when you swallow to allow food to pass into the stomach. In people with achalasia, it does not relax as well. In addition, the normal muscle activity of the esophsagus (peristalsis) is reduced.

This problem is caused by damage to the nerves of the esophagus.

Other problems can cause similar symptoms, such as cancer of the esophagus or upper stomach, and a parasite infection that causes Chagas disease.

Achalasia is rare. It may occur at any age, but is most common in people ages 25 to 60. In some people, the problem may be inherited.

Symptoms include:

Backflow (regurgitation) of food

Chest pain, which may increase after eating, or may be felt as pain in the back, neck, and arms

Cough

Difficulty swallowing liquids and solids

Heartburn

Unintentional weight loss

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to reduce the pressure at the sphincter muscle and allow food and liquids to pass easily into the stomach. Therapy may involve:

Injection with botulinum toxin (Botox) -- This may help relax the sphincter muscles. However, the benefit wears off within a few weeks or months.

Medicines, such as long-acting nitrates or calcium channel blockers -- These drugs can be used to relax the lower esophagus sphincter. But there is rarely a long-term solution to treat achalasia.

Surgery (called a myotomy) -- In this procedure, the lower sphincter muscle is cut.

Widening (dilation) of the esophagus -- This is done during EGD by stretching the LES with a balloon dilator.

Your health care provider can help you decide which treatment is best for you.

What Are the Symptoms of Achalasia?
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