Esophageal spasm

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Definition

Esophageal spasms are abnormal contractions of the muscles in the esophagus (the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach). These spasms do not move food effectively to the stomach.

Alternative Names

Diffuse esophageal spasm; Spasm of the esophagus

Causes

The cause of esophageal spasm is unknown. Very hot or very cold foods may trigger an episode in some people.

Symptoms

It can be hard to tell a spasm from angina pectoris, a symptom of heart disease. The pain may spread to the neck, jaw, arms, or back

Exams and Tests

Treatment

Nitroglycerin given under the tongue (sublingual) may help a sudden episode of esophageal spasm. Long-acting nitroglycerin and calcium channel blockers are also used for the problem.

Long-term (chronic) cases are sometimes treated with low-dose antidepressants such as trazodone or nortriptyline to reduce symptoms.

Rarely, severe cases may need dilation (widening) of the esophagus or surgery. to control symptoms

Support Groups

Outlook (Prognosis)

An esophageal spasm may come and go (intermittent) or last for a long time (chronic). Medicine can help relieve symptoms.

Possible Complications

The condition may not respond to treatment.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of esophageal spasm that don't go away.

Prevention

Avoid very hot or very cold foods if you get esophageal spasms.

References

Kahrilas PJ, Pandolfino JE. Esophageal neuromuscular function and motility disorders. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2010:chap 42.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 10/8/2012
  • George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, and Stephanie Slon.

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This page was last updated: May 20, 2014

         
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