Achalasia is a disorder of the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach (esophagus), which affects the ability of the esophagus to move food toward the stomach
Causes, incidence, and risk factors:
The main problem in achalasia is a failure of the a muscular ring where the esophagus and stomach come together (lower esophageal sphincter) to relax during swallowing.
Another part of the disorder is a lack of nerve stimulation to the muscles of the esophagus. Causes include:
- Damage to the nerves of the esophagus
- Infection with a parasite
- Inherited factors
As a result, the wave-like contractions of smooth muscles that normally force food through the esophagus and other parts of the digestive tract do not work as well. (These contractions are called peristalsis .)
Achalasia is a rare disorder. It may occur at any age, but is most common in middle-aged or older adults.
Signs and tests:
Physical examination may show signs of anemia .
The approach to treatment is to reduce the pressure at the lower esophageal sphincter. Therapy may involve:
- Injection with botulinum toxin (Botox). This may help relax the sphincter muscles, but any benefit wears off within a matter of weeks or months.
- Medications, such as long-acting nitrates or calcium channel blockers, which can be used to lower the pressure at the lower esophagus sphincter
- Surgery (called an esophagomyotomy), which may be needed to decrease the pressure in the lower sphincter
Your doctor can help you decide which treatment is best for your situation.
The outcomes of surgery and nonsurgical treatments are similar. Sometimes more than one treatment is necessary.
- Breathing food contents into the lungs, which can cause pneumonia
- Regurgitation of acid or food from the stomach into the esophagus (reflux)
- Tearing (perforation) of the esophagus
Calling your health care provider:
Call your health care provider if you have difficulty swallowing or painful swallowing, or if your symptoms continue despite treatment for achalasia.
Many of the causes of achalasia are not preventable. However, treatment of the disorder may help to prevent complications.
References: Goldman L, Ausiello DA, et al. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007.
|Review Date: 2/20/2008|
Reviewed By: Christian Stone, MD, Division of Gastroenterology, Washington University in St. Louis, School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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