Esophageal Spasms – Causes, Risk & Treatment

Causes of esophageal spasms: Esophagus has muscular walls and is lined with mucus membranes. Esophageal muscles contract abnormally causing esophageal spasms. When this occurs, the food reaches your stomach with great difficulty. Esophageal spasms are rare.

Causes of esophageal spasms

Esophageal muscles flex and relax normally. A wave of coordinated contractions lets the food or liquid move down the stomach. This process is known as peristalsis. If a person has esophageal spasms, contractions don’t work normally. Thus, abnormal contractions make it difficult for food or liquid to move through the esophagus.

The following are the main types of esophageal spasms:

Distal or diffuse esophageal spasm: In this type, abnormal muscle contractions occur in the lower part of the esophagus. Regurgitation occurs, wherein swallowed liquid or food comes back up the esophagus.

Nutcracker esophagus:  Strong or forceful muscle contractions cause jackhammer or nutcracker esophagus. It is associated with pain while swallowing food or liquid. The pain is often severe and it may feel like squeezing chest pain.

Why you should not ignore esophageal spasms?

Esophageal spasms cause pain and swallowing difficulty. Though they are disruptive, esophageal spasms are not considered as a serious health issue.

Swallowing difficulty, heartburn and pain are often the signs of chronic acid reflux or GERD. It is therefore better to evaluate the causes of your symptoms by consulting an experienced gastroenterologist.

Esophageal spasms symptoms mimic the symptoms of a heart attack

Take action immediately and seek emergency medical care if you experience:

  • Severe chest pain
  • Tightness or heaviness in the chest
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Irregular heartbeat or heart palpitations
  • Cold sweats
  • Pain in the shoulder arm or neck
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting

Causes of esophageal spasms

The exact cause of esophageal spasms is not clear. They are however believed to be related to abnormal functioning of the nerves that control esophageal muscles.

Anxiety and depression, very hot or cold foods, certain drinks, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and certain treatments – such as esophageal surgery, and radiation therapy can also cause esophageal spasms.

Diagnosis of esophageal spasms

Esophageal manometry test measures rhythmic muscle contractions (the force and coordination of esophageal muscles) of the esophagus. It also measures the functioning of the esophageal sphincter (flex and relaxation of the esophageal sphincter during a swallow).

Upper endoscopy: A gastroenterologist uses a flexible thin tube mounted with a light and camera (an endoscope) to see the inside of the esophagus and stomach. The doctor collects a tissue sample (biopsy) during an endoscopy procedure for laboratory analysis to test for other esophageal diseases.

Barium swallow

A doctor orders X-rays after a person drinks or swallows a chalky liquid (barium solution) to look for any narrowing (stricture) in the esophagus. The liquid coats and fills the inner lining of the digestive tract. This helps the gastroenterologist to see the silhouette of the esophagus, stomach, and upper intestine. While barium moves down the esophagus, it slows down or gets stuck in a narrowing or stricture is present in the esophagus.

Bottom Line

Esophageal spasms can sometimes cause symptoms that look very similar to a heart attack. A heart attack can be life-threatening if not treated right away. Therefore, if you experience severe chest pain and breathing difficulty seek emergency medical care straightaway.

Consult an experienced gastroenterologist if you experience the signs and symptoms of esophageal spasms. An underlying cause such as GERD could be the cause of this condition. Therefore, treating the underlying cause is the first line of defense against the symptoms. It is also important to adopt healthy habits and lifestyles – such as managing weight, healthy eating, and proper rest. In most cases, though the cause of esophageal spasms remains unknown they can usually be treated effectively.

If you have any symptoms or issues related to esophageal spasms, meet Dr. Datta Ram U personally for an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

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