Simultaneous esophageal spasms are uncoordinated contractions of the muscles in the esophagus that – instead of pushing food through to the stomach – are ineffective and prevent normal esophageal movement. Those ineffective diffuse esophageal spasms can be associated with spastic lower esophageal sphincter in around 9% of cases.

What Causes Esophageal Spasms?

It is unclear what causes these poorly coordinated esophageal spasms. However, some common triggers have been identified, like very cold or very hot foods or liquids. Women and patients with baseline anxiety disorders are more prone to diffuse esophageal spasms.

What Are the Symptoms of Esophageal Spasms?

Patients with diffuse esophageal spasm complain of chest pain when the spasms happen. The chest pain can radiate to the jaw or shoulder and can be indistinguishable from heart-related chest pain. Heartburn and painful swallowing are also common with esophageal spasm. However, when the spasms become frequent they can cause swallowing difficulties and food regurgitation.

How Are Esophageal Spasms Diagnosed?

High resolution manometry or a videoesophagram can demonstrate the ineffective contractions and diagnose diffuse esophageal spasm. An upper endoscopy might also be necessary to rule out other causes of the symptoms, like chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease or achalasia.

What Is the Treatment for Esophageal Spasms?

Diffuse esophageal spasm is usually a mild disease and might not require any treatment. Prevention by avoiding triggers can be sufficient. In severe cases, smooth-muscle relaxers like sublingual nitroglycerin, as well as long-acting forms of nitroglycerin, can be used. Calcium channel blockers and antidepressants also have been used and can be effective for maintenance therapy. In rare cases, surgery to cut the spastic muscle of the esophagus may be necessary for esophageal spasm treatment.

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