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Esophageal spasm

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, incidence, and risk factors

The cause of esophageal spasm is unknown. Very hot or very cold foods may trigger an episode in some people. It can be hard to tell a spasm from angina. The pain may spread to the neck, jaw, arms, or back.

Symptoms

Signs and tests

Treatment

Nitroglycerin given under the tongue (sublingual) may be effective in an acute episode. Long-acting nitroglycerin and calcium channel blockers are also used to treat esophageal spasms. Long-term (chronic) cases are sometimes treated with low-dose antidepressants such as nortriptyline to reduce symptoms.

Rarely, severe cases need surgery.

Expectations (prognosis)

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

Complications

The condition may not respond to treatment.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with 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.


Review Date: 8/22/2008
Reviewed By: Christian Stone, MD, Division of Gastroenterology, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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