Achalasia: Loyola Physician Cures Disease | News | Loyola Medicine
Monday, February 23, 2015

Loyola gastroenterology team identifies and cures rare swallowing disorder

Diagnosing achalasia usually takes 5 years, says Loyola gastroenterologist

MAYWOOD, Ill. (February 10, 2015) – Ron Schmidt was on an Alaskan cruise a year ago when he noticed he had trouble swallowing. "I joked with my friends that I was a slow eater and urged them to continue on to dessert but I knew something was wrong," says the retired outplacement counselor. 

Schmidt talked to his primary care doctor who referred him to an ear, nose and throat specialist. "They thought it was acid reflux and put me on a very strict diet with medication but it still didn’t help," says Schmidt. "I was then sent to a gastroenterologist who diagnosed and cured my illness."

Mukund Venu, MD, is a gastroenterologist who specializes in swallowing disorders at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill. "Ron had a rare condition called achalasia, where the esophagus fails to deliver food in to the stomach when eating," says Venu. "The nerve cells of the esophagus degenerate and cause failure of the normal swallowing process." Achalasia has no known cause and can happen to people of all ages. 

"I call it a withering disease because if you do not get treatment, you wither away," says Schmidt, a slightly built man who lost 20 pounds before being cured. "It also was very disturbing to not enjoy food and to not share meals socially with friends." 

In addition to weight loss and regurgitation, other symptoms of achalasia can include chest pain, heartburn, difficulty burping, a sensation of fullness or a lump in the throat and hiccups.

Dr. Venu and the gastroenterology team performed several tests including an esophageal manometry to evaluate the strength and coordination of the esophageal muscles. A thin, pressure-sensitive tube is passed through the nose, down the esophagus and into the stomach. The failure of Schmidt’s esophageal muscles to contract and relax normally was discovered.

"As an academic medical center, Loyola has equipment that is not available at most other medical facilities. On average, patients suffer from achalasia for five years before it is finally diagnosed and successfully treated. At Loyola gastroenterology, we were able to help Ron return to normal life within weeks," says Venu, who also is an assistant professor of medicine, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. 

There are two common options for treatment of achalasia. Heller myotomy is a surgical procedure where the lower esophagus muscle is removed. A less-invasive approach is a pneumatic or balloon dilatation where the constricted muscle of the esophagus is stretched open. 

After several conversations with Dr. Venu, Schmidt chose the series of two balloon dilatations. "After the very first procedure, I was eating and drinking normally," says Schmidt. "The second dilatation was one week later and in my mind just sealed the deal. I have been fine for several months now and just need to keep a watch to see if any symptoms return."

Schmidt values the relationship he formed with Dr. Venu. "Dr. Venu always had all the time in the world to talk to me and make sure I understood my condition and was comfortable with the treatment," says Schmidt, who recently celebrated his 79th birthday at a dinner with relatives. "He posted tests results immediately on MyLoyola so I never had to wait or worry." MyLoyola is a free secure online account system where patients can: schedule or request medical appointments; view test results; communicate with the medical care team and more.   

The gastroenterology & nutrition group at Loyola University Medical Center provides comprehensive, high-quality care in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the gastrointestinal system, which includes the esophagus, stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, intestines and liver. The team is composed of physicians, registered nurses, dietitians, pharmacists and research staff. Approximately 8,500 procedures are performed and 13,000 outpatient and inpatient visits occur each year. 

To make an appointment with a Loyola gastroenterologist, call 708-216-9000.

About Loyola Medicine and Trinity Health

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, MacNeal Hospital and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from 1,877 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Having delivered compassionate care for over 50 years, Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its teaching affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments. MacNeal has a 12-bed acute rehabilitation unit, a 25-bed inpatient skilled nursing facility, and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. MacNeal has provided quality, patient-centered care to the near west suburbs since 1919.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic healthcare systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 94 hospitals, as well as 109 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $18.3 billion and assets of $26.2 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity employs about 133,000 colleagues, including 7,800 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services—ranked by number of visits—in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs.