Condition 101 About Achalasia

What is the definition of Achalasia?

The tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach is the esophagus or food pipe. Achalasia makes it harder for the esophagus to move food into the stomach.

What are the alternative names for Achalasia?

Esophageal achalasia; Swallowing problems for liquids and solids; Cardiospasm - lower esophageal sphincter spasm

What are the causes for Achalasia?

There is a muscular ring at the point where the esophagus and stomach meet. It is called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Normally, this muscle relaxes when you swallow to allow food to pass into the stomach. In people with achalasia, it does not relax as it should. In addition, the normal muscle activity of the esophagus (peristalsis) is reduced or absent.

This problem is caused by damage to the nerves of the esophagus.

Other problems can cause similar symptoms, such as cancer of the esophagus or upper stomach, and a parasite infection that causes Chagas disease.

Achalasia is rare. It may occur at any age, but is most common in people ages 25 to 60. In some people, the problem may be inherited.

What are the symptoms for Achalasia?

Symptoms include:

  • Backflow (regurgitation) of food
  • Chest pain, which may increase after eating, or may be felt as pain in the back, neck, and arms
  • Cough
  • Difficulty swallowing liquids and solids
  • Heartburn
  • Unintentional weight loss

What are the current treatments for Achalasia?

The goal of treatment is to reduce the pressure at the sphincter muscle and allow food and liquids to pass easily into the stomach. Therapy may involve:

  • Injection with botulinum toxin (Botox) -- This may help relax the sphincter muscles. However, the benefit wears off within a few weeks or months.
  • Medicines, such as long-acting nitrates or calcium channel blockers -- These drugs can be used to relax the lower esophagus sphincter. But there is rarely a long-term solution to treat achalasia.
  • Surgery (called a myotomy) -- In this procedure, the lower sphincter muscle is cut.
  • Widening (dilation) of the esophagus -- This is done during EGD by stretching the LES with a balloon dilator.

Your health care provider can help you decide which treatment is best for you.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Achalasia?

The outcomes of surgery and non-surgical treatments are similar. More than one treatment is sometimes necessary.

What are the possible complications for Achalasia?

Complications may include:

  • Backflow (regurgitation) of acid or food from the stomach into the esophagus (reflux)
  • Breathing food contents into the lungs (aspiration), which can cause pneumonia
  • Tearing (perforation) of the esophagus

When should I contact a medical professional for Achalasia?

Call your provider if:

  • You have trouble swallowing or painful swallowing
  • Your symptoms continue, even with treatment for achalasia

How do I prevent Achalasia?

Many of the causes of achalasia cannot be prevented. However, treatment may help to prevent complications.

Digestive
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Achalasia

REFERENCES

Falk GW, Katzka DA. Diseases of the esophagus. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 129.

Hamer PW, Lamb PJ. The management of achalasia and other motility disorders of the oesophagus. In: Griffin SM, Lamb PJ, eds. Oesophagogastric Surgery: A Companion to Specialist Surgical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 16.

Pandolfino JE, Kahrilas PJ. Esophageal neuromuscular function and motility disorders. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 43.

Latest Advances On Achalasia

  • Condition: Achalasia
  • Journal: The Medical journal of Australia
  • Treatment Used: Per-Oral Endoscopic Myotomy
  • Number of Patients: 142
  • Published —
The study researched the use of per-oral endoscopic myotomy for treating achalasia.
  • Condition: Esophageal Achalasia
  • Journal: Journal of laparoendoscopic & advanced surgical techniques. Part A
  • Treatment Used: Heller Myotomy and Dor Fundoplication
  • Number of Patients: 21
  • Published —
In this study, researchers evaluated the outcomes of treating Esophageal Achalasia with laparoscopic Heller myotomy with Dor fundoplication.

Clinical Trials For Achalasia

Clinical Trial
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Intervention Type: Procedure
  • Participants: 20
  • Start Date: March 2021
Assessment of Safety and Outcomes in Patients Undergoing a Standard-of-care Combined POEM-TIF Procedure
Clinical Trial
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Phase: Phase 4
  • Intervention Type: Drug, Procedure
  • Participants: 80
  • Start Date: December 2020
Comprehensive Assessment of Histopathologic and Physiologic Profile in Esophageal Motility Disorders