The esophagus is a muscular tube which extends from the mouth to the stomach, and achalasia is a rare disorder which affects the ability of the esophagus to move food towards the stomach. The esophagus loses the ability to push food down, and the muscle tube at the end of the esophagus (lower esophageal sphincter) doesn’t fully relax. Achalasia is commonly characterized by trouble swallowing, vomiting, and chest pain.
In normal cases, the muscular ring where the esophagus and stomach meet relaxes while swallowing. However, with achalasia, the muscle does not relax. This is normally caused by damage to the nerves of the esophagus, which, in turn, does not let the throat muscles loosen.
Achalasia is a rare disease, but can occur at any age. It most commonly seen in middle-aged or older adults and may be inherited in some cases.
Achalasia has various side effects and symptoms. Some of them include:
- Difficulty swallowing anything, from liquids to solid foods, a condition called dysphagia
- Acid reflux
- Inhaling food into the lungs
- Esophageal perforation
- Chest pain
- Trouble swallowing
- Unintended weight loss and malnutrition
Usually achalasia symptoms can be treated through endoscopic therapy or surgery; however, there is no known cure. Achalasia must be treated to prevent debilitating symptoms or side effects which may occur, such as lung infections or pneumonia if food is aspirated.
Achalasia patients also have a slightly increased chance of developing esophageal cancer, so routine screenings will be required.
Some of the treatments proven to be successful for achalasia include:
- Botox - Your doctor may inject Botox (botulinum toxin) into your throat to help relax the esophageal sphincter muscle. Botox, in very small quantities, can help relax spastic muscles by preventing nerves from sending signals to the muscles to contract. However, only about one-third of patients have good short-term results from Botox compared to balloon dilation. Also, the benefits of Botox injections can wear off in a few weeks or months.
- Medication - Some medications have been created to be long-acting nitrates or calcium channel blockers can be used to help relax the lower esophageal sphincter. These specific medications include nifedipine and nitroglycerine.
- Surgery - Called a laparoscopic esophagomyotomy, this minimally-invasive surgery decreases the pressure in the lower part of the esophagus and helps the throat muscles relax. Up to two-thirds of patients have successful results from surgery, but some patients will need to have the surgery repeated or have a balloon dilation to get the best results.
- Balloon Dilation - Doctors can dilate the esophagus in order to make the muscle relax at the base of esophagus, done during esophagogastroduodenoscopy. This nonsurgical procedure is performed under light sedation and may have to be repeated several times every few years to relieve or improve symptoms.
Achalasia Treatment Risks and Complications
Achalasia treatments do not fix the esophagus; they only attempt to improve its function. Regardless of which therapy is chosen, long-term follow up will be necessary to ensure that the function is preserved. Continued research is constantly being done to determine further and more effective treatments for achalasia.
If you're looking to treat Achalasia today, than look no further than West Medical. We're dedicated to treating all of our patients with the best care and understanding. Looking for medical help for gastrointestinal disorders? Please call West Medical Gastroenterology at (855) 690-0565 today!
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