Achalasia is a disorder of the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach (esophagus), which affects the ability of the esophagus to move food toward the stomach.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
A muscular ring at the point where the esophagus and stomach come together (lower esophageal sphincter) normally relaxes during swallowing. In people with achalasia, this muscle ring does not relax as well. The reason for this problem is damage to the nerves of the esophagus.
Cancer of the esophagus or upper stomach and a parasite infection that causes Chagas disease may have symptoms like those of achalasia.
Achalasia is a rare disorder. It may occur at any age, but is most common in middle-aged or older adults. This problem may be inherited in some people.
Signs and tests
The approach to treatment is to reduce the pressure at the lower esophageal sphincter. Therapy may involve:
- Injection with botulinum toxin (Botox). This may help relax the sphincter muscles, but any benefit wears off within a matter of weeks or months.
- Medications, such as long-acting nitrates or calcium channel blockers, which can be used to relax the lower esophagus sphincter
- Surgery (called an esophagomyotomy), which may be needed to decrease the pressure in the lower sphincter
- Widening (dilation) of the esophagus at the location of the narrowing (done during esophagogastroduodenoscopy)
Your doctor can help you decide which treatment is best for your situation.
The outcomes of surgery and nonsurgical treatments are similar. Sometimes more than one treatment is necessary.
- Backflow (regurgitation) of acid or food from the stomach into the esophagus (reflux)
- Breathing food contents into the lungs, which can cause pneumonia
- Tearing (perforation) of the esophagus
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if:
- You have difficulty swallowing or painful swallowing
- Your symptoms continue even with treatment for achalasia
Many of the causes of achalasia are not preventable. However, treatment of the disorder may help to prevent complications.
Orlando RC. Diseases of the esophagus. In: Goldman L, Ausiello DA, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 140.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. ©1997-2013 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Banish Breakouts, Blackheads, and Blemishes
When Is It Time for a Colonoscopy?
American Idol's Casey Abrams: Health Advocacy and a New Album
Types of Chemotherapy and Radiation
Understanding Heartburn and GERD
Sign Up for Free Newsletters
Ask Your Doctor the RIGHT Questions!
the most from your doctor visit.
Emailed right to you!
The Ask Your Doctor email series
may contain sponsored content.
18+, US residents only please.
Explore Original Articles About...
Get the MOST from QualityHealth
- Top Searches
- 1. Arthritis Management: Nature Heals
- 2. 5 Digestive To-Dos
- 3. Men: Should You Shave It or Leave It?
- 4. Today's Top Fitness Trends
- 5. Sugar and Osteoarthritis : The Link
- 6. Can't Afford Your Hospital Bills?
- 7. Stay Energized All Day Long
- 8. Phobias: Who Has Them and Why?
- 9. What If Your EpiPen Fails?
- 10. 5 Costly Medical Billing Mistakes
- 1. Ice Falls Can Cause Serious Injuries
- 2. Can Inactivity Act Like a Disease?
- 3. Kale Snack Recipe for Diabetics
- 4. How Running Affects Arthritis
- 5. Sugar and Your Immunity System
- 6. Do Weight Loss Supplements Work?
- 7. 5 Super Foods for Spring
- 8. The Hazards of Reusable Bags
- 9. How to Avoid Ingrown Hairs
- 10. Health Tip: Constantly Change Shoes
- 1. 4 Common Treatments for Epilepsy
- 2. What Does a Urogynecologist Do?
- 3. GERD Without Heartburn? It's Possible
- 4. Graston Technique: Can It Work on You?
- 5. Music Therapy Can Help Autism
- 6. 8 Ways to Fight MS-Related Fatigue
- 7. Can You Still Bleed After Menopause?
- 8. Be Your Own Health Care Advocate
- 9. Why Is Syphillis on the Rise?
- 10. Ideal Weight vs. Happy Weight
The material on the QualityHealth Web site is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a physician or other qualified health provider. See additional information.