Esophageal spasms are sometimes called nutcracker esophagus, though this is actually only one of the types of spasm.
People afflicted have irregular, uncoordinated, and sometimes powerful contractions of the esophagus, which is the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.
Normally, contractions of the esophagus are coordinated, moving the food through the esophagus and into the stomach.
There are two main types of esophageal spasm. First, there is something called the diffuse esophageal spasm.
This type of spasm is an irregular, uncoordinated squeezing of the muscles of the esophagus. This can prevent food from reaching the stomach, leaving it stuck in the esophagus.
Second is something called nutcracker esophagus. This type of spasm squeezes the esophagus in a coordinated way, the same way food is normally moved down the esophagus.
However, the squeezing is very strong. So while these contractions succeed in moving food through the esophagus, they can also cause severe pain.
It’s possible to have both types of esophageal spasm occur, and so the presence of one type doesn’t preclude suffering from the other type.
Be certain what you have
Esophageal spasms are uncommon, and can often feel like a heart attack. It’s important that you see a doctor to ensure that what you have are esophageal spasms and not something more serious.
In addition, symptoms that may suggest an esophageal spasm are often the result of another condition such as gastroesophageal reflux disease or achalasia, a problem with the nervous system in which the muscles of the esophagus and the lower esophageal sphincter don’t work properly. Anxiety or panic attacks can also cause similar symptoms.
Because esophageal spasms can easily be taken for different conditions, other conditions might actually be the root cause of them, and the spasms can look like a variety of other conditions, it is essential that you consult a health professional to ensure you know what you have and can manage it accordingly.
It’s very difficult to take steps to control a condition that hasn’t been definitively diagnosed.
Natural measures to control esophageal spasms are often measures that will be just good for your health generally, which doesn’t necessarily make them any easier to implement, but might be something else to keep in mind while you pursue them.
Start a Food Diary
In order to keep track of the foods and beverages that trigger or worsen your symptoms, start keeping a log or diary of what you eat.
You will find that certain foods bring on spasms and worsen your condition. There are also foods that will either safe to eat, or will actually provide a benefit to you.
There are foods and beverages that are generally helpful or harmful, including peppermint, which can help relieve symptoms, and caffeine, which is generally a good idea to avoid.
However, to get a better and clear understanding of the effect your diet has on the condition, it is essential that you start logging your intake.
Along with controlling your diet, you’ll probably want to make some changes to your eating schedule.
Eat a number of small meals instead of having two or three large meals. This is also good for general health, and can be useful to help with weight control as well as medical conditions.
Control your weight
If you need to, lose a little weight. Losing even a few pounds can help with symptoms. Focus on losing your first five or ten pounds, and depending on your situation, that might be enough.
A side-effect of esophageal spasms can be weight loss, but it’s better to have control of this yourself, rather than allowing the condition to make you feel weak and undernourished.
Eat more fiber
Increase your fiber consumption to at least forty grams a day. Make sure to include whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Again, this is a good measure to take just for general health, and helps both with weight control and digestive issues in addition to esophageal conditions.
Avoid alcohol, or keep your consumption to a minimum, drinking it only with meals. Also, the pleasant “side-effects” of alcohol can lower inhibitions and encourage you to indulge and eat known trigger foods.
Avoid hot or cold
Both very hot and very cold food and drink can make things worse. Extreme temperatures put stresses on your esophagus and exacerbate symptoms.
Get some licorice
There has been some success in managing and relieving spasms with deglycyrrhizinated licorice or DGL.
Unlike a drug, the supplement needs to be taken regularly, and not just to relieve an attack. It comes in chewable tablets and in powder form.
Slowly chew two tablets or take a half-teaspoon of the powder before or between meals and at bedtime. Once your symptoms are under control, you can lower your dosage.
Wait to lie down
Think of lying down as being like swimming, and leave yourself a good, long time before you lie down after eating.
You have to be quite patient, since it’s best to wait two or three hours. Late-night snacks aren’t a good idea either, since it’s almost inevitable that you’ll lie down for sleep not long after eating.
Easier said than done, but avoid using any form of tobacco. You need to relieve the strain that nicotine puts on the body.
Nicotine causes stresses to your esophagus, and inhaling hot smoke through your windpipe will just make things worse.
Make sure you have room to breath
Constriction of the diaphragm and other core muscles can make cause an attack of esophageal spasms. Do not wear tight clothing around your middle.
Unfortunately, the general theme of these measures seems to be that bland is better for esophageal contractions.
If you increase fiber intake, avoid spicy food, hot food and alcohol, it might seem almost inevitable that your diet will be terribly bland.
However, if you consider that the alternative might be an attack of very painful spasms, then learning to reconcile yourself to a bland diet is a small price to pay.