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Alternative Names Return to topDiffuse esophageal spasm; Spasm of the esophagus
Definition Return to top
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.
Causes Return to top
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 Return to top
Exams and Tests Return to top
Treatment Return to top
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.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
An esophageal spasm may come and go (intermittent) or last for a long time (chronic). Medicine can help relieve symptoms.
Possible Complications Return to top
The condition may not respond to treatment.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have symptoms of esophageal spasm that don't go away.
Prevention Return to top
Avoid very hot or very cold foods if you get esophageal spasms.Update Date: 8/22/2008 Updated 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.