Miami Children's Hospital
Local: 305-666-6511
Toll Free: 800-432-6837
My Kids Patient Portal
Search
Advanced Search

Pediatric Center
In this section

Gastrointestinal

Esophageal spasm

  PRINT    
     Bookmark and Share

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.

Symptoms

  • Difficulty swallowing or pain with swallowing
  • Pain in the chest or upper abdomen

It can be hard to tell a spasm from angina pectoris, a symptom of heart disease. The pain may spread to the neck, jaw, arms, or back

Signs and tests

  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)
  • Esophageal manometry
  • Esophagogram (barium swallow x-ray)

Treatment

Nitroglycerin given under the tongue (sublingual) may be effective in an acute episode of esophageal spasm. 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 trazodone or nortriptyline to reduce symptoms.

Rarely, severe cases may need dilation (widening) of the esophagus or surgery to control symptoms. However, it is not clear whether these procedures will help.

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.

References

Kahrilas PJ, Pandolfino JE. Esophageal neuromuscular function and motility disorders. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2010:chap 42.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial proces and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).
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- 2010 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.