What is esophageal spasm?
Normally, contractions of the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth and the stomach) move food from the mouth to the stomach with a regular, coordinated rhythm.
Esophageal spasm means that contractions of the esophagus are irregular, uncoordinated, and sometimes powerful. This condition may be called diffuse esophageal spasm, or DES. These spasms can prevent food from reaching the stomach. When this happens, the food gets stuck in the esophagus.
Sometimes the squeezing moves down the esophagus in a coordinated way, but it is very strong. This can be called nutcracker esophagus. These contractions move food through the esophagus but can cause severe pain.
How common is esophageal spasm?
Esophageal spasm is not common. They tend to occur in people between the ages of 60 and 80. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of esophageal spasm?
The common symptoms of esophageal spasm are:
- Squeezing pain in your chest. The pain is often intense, and you might mistake it for heart pain (angina).
- Difficulty swallowing, sometimes related to swallowing specific substances, such as red wine or extremely hot or cold liquids.
- The feeling that an object is stuck in your throat.
- The return of food and liquids back up your esophagus (regurgitation).
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes esophageal spasm?
The cause of esophageal spasm is unknown. Many doctors believe it results from a disruption of the nerve activity that coordinates the swallowing action of the esophagus. In some people, very hot or very cold foods may trigger an episode.
What increases my risk for esophageal spasm?
There are many risk factors for esophageal spasm, such as:
- Old age
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- High blood pressure
- Anxiety or depression
- Drinking red wine or consuming very hot or very cold foods or drinks
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is esophageal spasm diagnosed?
Your doctor can often find out the cause of esophageal spasm from your medical history by asking you a series of questions. These include questions about what foods or liquids trigger symptoms, where it feels like food gets stuck, other symptoms or conditions you may have, and whether you are taking medicines for them.
The diagnosis can be confirmed with tests, including esophagus tests (such as esophageal manometry) or a barium swallow. Esophageal manometry uses a small tube attached to instruments (transducers) that measure pressure. A barium swallow is done using X-rays.
Other tests may be done to find out whether chest pain may be caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the abnormal backflow (reflux) of food, stomach acid, and other digestive juices from the stomach into the esophagus.
How is esophageal spasm treated?
Treatment for esophageal spasm includes treating other conditions that may make esophageal spasms worse, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is usually treated with changes to diet and lifestyle and medicines to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach.
Other treatment for esophageal spasm may include:
- Changing the foods you eat. Your doctor may tell you to eat certain foods and liquids to make swallowing easier.
- In this treatment, a device is placed down your esophagus to carefully expand any narrow areas of your esophagus. You may need to have the treatment more than once.
- Surgery is sometimes used in people who have a problem that affects the lower esophageal muscle (achalasia).
- If you can’t have dilation or surgery, your doctor may suggest medicines, such as botulinum toxin, to relax the muscles in the esophagus.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage esophageal spasm?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with esophageal spasm:
- Avoid your triggers. Make a list of foods and beverages that cause your esophageal spasms.
- Choose food that is warm or cool. Let foods and drinks that are very hot or very cold sit for a bit before eating or drinking them.
- Find ways to control stress. Esophageal spasms may be more common or more severe when you’re stressed.
- Suck a peppermint lozenge. Peppermint oil is a smooth-muscle relaxant and might help ease esophageal spasms. Place the peppermint lozenge under your tongue.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Esophageal spasms. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/esophageal-spasms/basics/definition/con-20025653. Accessed September 12, 2017.
Esophageal Spasm - Topic Overview. http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/tc/esophageal-spasm-topic-overview#2. Accessed September 12, 2017.
Review Date: September 12, 2017 | Last Modified: September 13, 2017