Diffuse Esophageal Spasm | Digestive Health Program | Loyola Medicine

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Diffuse Esophageal Spasm

Overview and Facts about Diffuse Esophageal Spasm

A diffuse esophageal spasm is a condition that affects the esophagus, which is the portion of your digestive system that connects your mouth and throat to your stomach. Normally, your esophagus contracts in a rhythmic or coordinated fashion to move what you eat down toward your stomach.

However, during a diffuse esophageal spasm, the esophagus contracts in an uncoordinated fashion and fails to relax during or after swallowing. Frequent spasms can prevent consumed food and liquids from moving down the esophagus toward the stomach.

Symptoms and Signs of Diffuse Esophageal Spasm

Diffuse esophageal spasms are often accompanied by squeezing chest pain. Depending on the severity of the spasm, pain can last for a few minutes or several hours. The pain can be mistaken for angina or heart attack pain, thus it is important to understand other telltale signs of diffuse esophageal spasm.

Other symptoms include:

  • Feeling that something is stuck in your throat
  • Food or liquid regurgitation
  • Heartburn or gastric reflux
  • Trouble or difficulty swallowing particular items, such as hot or cold liquids and foods

Causes and Risk Factors of Diffuse Esophageal Spasm

Although rare, diffuse esophageal spasms are likely to affect both men and women between the ages of 60 and 80. Individuals with disruptions or damage to the esophageal nerves that are responsible for coordinating esophageal contractions are especially at risk.

Other factors associated with diffuse esophageal spasm risk include:

Tests and Diagnosis of Diffuse Esophageal Spasm

An upper gastrointestinal endoscopy may be used to observe the inside of the esophagus. X-rays may also be performed following a barium swallow to more closely observe the esophagus. Esophageal manometry tests are also used to measure esophageal contractions, after swallowing water.

Treatment and Care for Diffuse Esophageal Spasm

Treatments for diffuse esophageal spasms aim to relax muscles in the esophagus. Treatments may include botulinum toxin injections to block the function of the nerves that make esophageal muscles contract, or certain drugs that may help relax the esophageal muscles. Peppermint oil and water is also a holistic remedy to alleviate spasms. In severe cases, surgery may be performed on the lower esophageal tract.