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Esophageal Spasms

Esophageal spasms are an uncoordinated series of muscle contractions in the smooth muscles of your esophagus. These spasms can prevent food from traveling properly to your stomach and, at times, are very painful. For some people, esophageal spasms can cause chronic pain and problems with swallowing.

Symptoms of Esophageal Spasms

It can be difficult to properly diagnose esophageal spasms because the symptoms are similar to those of other disorders, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Common symptoms of esophageal spasms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Globus (the sensation of having a lump in your throat)
  • Regurgitation
  • Heartburn

Types of Esophageal Spasms

Esophageal spasms, which affect the involuntary muscles of your lower esophagus, may occur in two forms.

  • Diffuse spasms: Simultaneous or irregular contractions of esophageal muscles that slow down the progress of food toward your stomach.
  • Nutcracker esophagus: Painfully strong contractions of esophageal muscles that may not interfere with food progress.

Difficulty swallowing is most common in people who suffer from diffuse spasms.
Esophageal spasms can be treated with lifestyle changes, medication, or surgery. In some cases, esophageal spasms are a result of an underlying medical condition that needs to be resolved. If you’re experiencing heartburn, chest pain, problems with swallowing, or difficulty keeping food down, you should contact your doctor.

Managing Underlying Conditions

Esophageal spasms are muscle spasms that occur in the smooth, involuntary muscles of the esophagus, the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. These spasms can cause pain in the chest and throat and, in some cases, can lead to chronic problems with pain and swallowing. Fortunately, there are several treatment options available for people who suffer from frequent esophageal spasms.
For some people, esophageal spasms are a symptom of another health complication. They can be caused by GERD, depression, or anxiety. Your doctor can help you diagnose and treat any underlying health conditions that are triggering these spasms.

Lifestyle Changes

Diet can also trigger esophageal spasms. Avoiding hot, cold, or spicy foods as well as foods with a high acid content may decrease the severity of these spasms. Eating smaller meals and taking the time to eat more slowly may also provide relief.

Medication Options

Your doctor may choose from a variety of prescription medications to address esophageal spasms. Your doctor may recommend smooth muscle relaxants, small doses of tricyclic antidepressants, or botulinum toxin injections. Small studies have also looked at the possibility of using peppermint oil and sildenafil (Viagra) to treat esophageal spasms.


In rare cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to treat esophageal spasms. There are surgeries available to make your esophageal contractions weaker or to completely remove the esophagus.
Contact your Dr. Bagnato if you find you experience difficulty swallowing, chest pain, frequent heartburn, or difficulty keeping food down. These may be signs of esophageal spasms or other health problems that your physician can treat.


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