When one hears the word “spasm”, one almost instantly thinks of muscle spasms. And when one hears muscle spasms, one almost instantly thinks of the legs.
However, spasms come in many shapes and variations and some of them can be downright dangerous for the human body.
The esophageal spasm is one of the most mysterious and least known types of spasm. Along with many other medical conditions the human being can suffer from, such as fibromyalgia.
The esophageal spasm is still a mystery to the entire medical world – even if research is being made.
What is the Esophageal Spasm?
Put in very simple terms, the esophageal spasm is the spasm that appears in the esophagus area.
The esophagus is basically the hollow tube that lies in between the throat and the stomach and when the muscles in that area contract, spasms appear.
For most of the people, esophageal spasms occur once in a while (or not at all, for that matter). But there are some cases when people suffer from recurrent esophageal spasms which can cause them chronic pain in the area of the esophagus and which can make it very difficult for them to swallow food or even liquids.
Which are the Symptoms the Esophageal Spasms Will Show?
Esophageal spasms can show several symptoms and they can be diagnosed with relative ease by a specialist. Among the symptoms patients suffering from this condition, one can include the following:
- Pain in the chest that feels like squeezing and that can be very easily mistaken with heart pain
- Feeling as if there is something stuck in your neck
- Regurgitation (returning the food and the liquids swallowed back into the esophagus)
- Difficult swallowing
If you experience these symptoms (especially the chest pain) you should visit a doctor as soon as possible.
The pain may be caused by an esophageal spasm, but even so, recurrent esophageal spasms have to be treated because you can end up unable to feed yourself properly and living with an almost constant pain in your chest area.
Even more than that, if the pain in your chest is not caused by a spasm, it may be a symptom of a heart issue – and that is definitely something you will want specialized treatment for.
Generally speaking, an esophageal spasm can be quite easily diagnosed. Aside from analyzing the symptoms, the doctor may have to order certain tests as well.
Esophageal manometry, for example, is a test doctors use to measure the muscle contractions experienced by the esophagus when you swallow water.
Furthermore, esophageal pH monitoring may be another test your doctor may order to see if you are experiencing acid reflux as well (if the stomach acid comes back into the esophagus). Also, an endoscopy may prove useful as well, since it can help your doctor see on the inside of the esophagus.
Last, but definitely not least, X-ray examinations may be in order too, and in most of the cases you will have to drink a contrast liquid (such as barium).
The X-ray results in the case of someone who is suffering from esophageal spasms will show that the esophagus looks like a corkscrew (reason for which the condition is also known as “corkscrew esophagus”).
The Causes that Lead to Esophageal Spasms
As it was mentioned before, the real causes leading to the development of this condition (even when its occurrence is sporadic) are not very much understood – not even today, after so much research that has been made in the medical world.
The only explanations we have been given up to the moment is related to the connection between muscles and nerves. The esophagus “sends” the food into the stomach and it does so with the help of the muscles surrounding it.
In their own turn, these muscles are controlled by certain nerves and when the nerves send the wrong signals towards the muscles, they will contract involuntarily, thus causing a spasm.
There are two main types of esophageal spasms: the diffuse ones and the “nutcracker” ones. Diffuse esophageal spasms appear occasionally, irregularly and uncontrollably and they will most likely lead to the regurgitation of the food because they make the esophagus unable to push the food further into the stomach.
The nutcracker esophageal spasms, on the other hand, will most likely not cause any kind of regurgitation. However, they can be extremely painful.
In one way, they are very similar to the normal movements the esophagus makes, in the sense that they are coordinated.
However, when the esophagus contracts, it does so with too much power, which makes every move of the esophagus very painful for the patient,and can also make it difficult to feed oneself.
Is There Any Kind of Treatment for Esophageal Spasms?
Since the real cause of this condition is not fully known, no cure can be developed yet.
However, there are certain risk factors you may want to eliminate and there are also certain forms of treatment that can relieve one of the spasms experienced in the esophageal area.
The risk factors that may lead to the development of this medical condition include the following:
- Eating foods that are too cold or too hot
- The gastroesophageal reflux disease
As for treatment options, they will most likely include medication to relax the muscles of the esophagus (so that involuntary contractions are avoided as much as possible).
Furthermore, if you suffer from any underlying condition (such as heartburn of the gastroesophageal reflux disease) you may have to acquire treatment for those too.
In the worst case scenarios, when the patients do not respond to acid reflux medication, surgery may be required. In some cases, surgery can be recommended to cut the muscle at the bottom of the esophagus as well – which may be able to release the muscles of the contractions.
Even more than that, the doctor will probably recommend a change one’s lifestyle. Not eating too hot or too cold foods, not eating spicy and highly acidic foods and not eating very late at night are some of the things the specialists will recommend.