Treating Esophageal Spasms

What are esophageal spasms?

When your esophagus is functioning normally, contractions transition food that you have swallowed down to the stomach. These coordinated contractions are part of a healthy digestive process. (Just to provide a quick medical refresher, the esophagus is a tube that joins the stomach and mouth.)

In the case of esophageal spasms these esophagus contractions are not regular or coordinated instead they are highly uncoordinated and irregular, frequently powerful.

This condition is oftentimes referred to as diffuse esophageal spasms (DES). The outcome is that the spasms have the ability to prevent what you have eaten from reaching your stomach as food becomes trapped in the esophagus.

This disorder is relatively uncommon. Many times, it occurs as a consequence of another condition, for instants gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or achalasia. In the case of achalasia, individuals are suffering from nervous system difficulties that compromise the functionality of the esophagus and lower esophageal sphincter muscles.

What are the causes of esophageal spasms?

Unfortunately, there is no known cause for the spasms. It is hypothesized by medical professionals that it is a likely result of a breakdown of communication and nerve activity responsible for the esophagus’ swallowing behavior. In some cases, spasm episodes can be activated by consuming very hot or cold foods.

What are the symptoms of esophageal spasms?

Frequently people that suffer from this disorder experience chest pain that can migrate to the neck, back and even the arms. These symptoms resemble the experience of a heart attack, which can make this an especially terrifying experience. It’s always best if you experience chest pains to be examined by a medical professional to rule out the potential of a cardiac disease.

Some other symptoms that typify this condition is the difficulty and inability to swallow your food or drink, swallowing pain, and a sensation of food being caught in the center of the chest, as well as heartburn.

How are the spasms treated?

In most cases the spasms are treated by minimizing other disorders that may be causing or aggravating them. Gastroesophageal reflux disease can be managed by modifications of lifestyle and diet in order to decrease the levels of stomach acids.

Some other treatments that can be effective for managing esophageal spasms are:

  • Surgery can be used to address compromised functioning in the lower esophageal muscle.
  • Physicians frequently prescribe botulinum toxin which has the ability to relax esophagus muscles.
  • Dietary changes can also help to ease this disorder. Physicians will likely have some insights into which foods are potentially difficult for you to consume if you are experiencing spasms.

What are the diagnostic criteria for esophageal spasms?

Medical professionals usually determine if you meet diagnostic criteria for this disorder by conducting a medical history and asking you a series of questions about foods that trigger the spasms. As well, physicians will typically run some diagnostic tests, for instance, an esophageal manometry, which uses small tubes called transducers to measure pressure. As well something called a barium swallow is often used. This is conducted by x-ray.

If you suffer from esophageal spasms you will probably need to make some lifestyle changes in order to avoid triggering or aggravating the condition.

  • Try avoiding trigger foods- assemble a list of those foods that seem to treat your symptoms and begin to eliminate them from your diet.
  • Avoid particularly hot and particularly cold foods, or, at least, let those types of foods sit until they are not such an extreme temperature. Sometimes the spasms are triggered by stress- so consider doing some deep breathing exercises or practicing meditation and see what effect that has on the occurrence of spasms.
  • Peppermint lozenges are natural muscle relaxants. Try purchasing a bag of them and put one under your tongue letting them absorb into your mouth.

These spasms can certainly be frightening, but an integrative approach that combines your physicians’ recommendations with common sense lifestyle changes is likely to help you manage and treat this difficult condition.

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