What is achalasia?

Achalasia is a rare disease that affects the esophagus (digestive tract) and makes it very difficult to swallow and pass food and drinks through the stomach. Occurs when the muscle ring at the end of the esophagus does not open completely or does not open at all. As a result, food and drinks cannot be pushed into the stomach by getting stuck and often regurgitating.

What are the symptoms of achalasia?

Not all people with the disorder exhibit symptoms; however, if present, symptoms include:

  • Regurgitation of undigested food
  • Chest pain
  • Cough attacks
  • Stomach ache
  • Excess saliva and sialorrhea (hypersalivation)
  • Gradual weight loss

The onset of achalasia can occur at any time in one’s life and, if left untreated, can increase the chances of developing esophageal cancer. It is important to consult the right specialist if any of these symptoms occur, so that you can make a diagnosis and prepare a treatment plan.

What are the causes of achalasia?

The cause of achalasia is basically unknown; however, it is believed to occur when the nerves present in the esophagus become damaged and completely stop functioning, causing the muscle ring at the end of the esophagus to stop functioning. The cause of this nerve damage is unknown, but it could be related to infection or possibly autoimmune conditions. There is also the possibility that achalasia is hereditary and that it is transmitted in the family.

Diagnosis for achalasia

Diagnosing achalasia can be difficult, as it has the same symptoms as other digestive disorders. In the event that a specialist suspects that your patient is suffering from achalasia, the following tests are likely to be performed:

  • Manometry : a tube is inserted in the nose or mouth to access the esophagus in order to measure muscle contractions during swallowing and to detect any pressure build-up.
  • Endoscopy : an endoscope is passed through the throat to allow examination of the esophageal lining and to identify any obstructions.
  • Radiography : the patient swallows a liquid containing barium and is then subjected to radiography. The procedure serves to establish the time taken by the liquid to reach the stomach.

Achalasia treatments

Although there is currently no cure for achalasia, there are certainly measures to help alleviate the symptoms. The key factor in effective treatment is making it easier for the patient to swallow when eating and drinking. Some medications have been thought to relax the esophageal muscles, making swallowing easier; however, these are only temporary effects.

Other treatment options are:

  • Botox injections : injected into the muscle ring which allows food to pass through the stomach, as Botox relaxes the muscle.
  • Surgery: the muscle ring is severed by means of minimally invasive surgery ( laparoscopy ), thus making it easier to swallow permanently.
  • Muscle dilatation: a balloon is passed along the esophagus in order to help the muscle ring that allows the passage of food in the stomach to relax, thus making swallowing easier and less painful.

 

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