Achalasia or acalasia is a failure of a ring of muscle (as a sphincter) to relax (completely). It refers most commonly to esophageal achalasia, which is a neuromuscular disorder of the esophagus characterized by the reduced ability to move food down the esophagus (peristalsis). In addition, the inability of the cardia ( also called lower esophageal sphincter)- to relax in response to swallowing (there is increased LES pressure- spasms). more...
Synonyms are achalasia cardiae, cardiospasm, dyssynergia esophagus, esophageal aperistalsis.
Signs and symptoms
- Regurgitation of undigested food
- Chest pains : increases after eating and may radiate to the back, neck, and arms.
- Weight loss
- Coughing, especially at night or when lying down
Due to the similarity of symptoms, achalasia can be misdiagnosed as other disorders, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and Chagas disease
- X-ray with a barium swallow or esophagography . Shows narrowing at the level of the gastroesophageal junction ("bird beak"), and various degrees of megaesophagus (esophageal dilation).
- Endoscopy, which provides a view from within the esophagus.
- Manometry, the key test for establishing the diagnosis. Measures the pressure induced in different parts of the esophagus and stomach during the act of swallowing.
- CT scan, which provides further visual evidence.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease-GERD or heartburn.
- Barrett's esophagus or Barrett's mucosa: in 10% of patients.
- There are two kinds of esophageal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. There are predisposing conditions that, if present for a long time, may lead to esophageal adenocarcinoma, like achalasia (in up to 5% of cases, Barrett's esophagus leads to esophageal adenocarcinoma).
Treatment and new expectations
- Balloon (pneumatic) dilation. The muscle fibers will be stretched. Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) occurs after dilatation in 25% to 35% of patients. Is a risk to later Heller myotomy.
- Intra-sphincteric injection of botulinum toxin (or botox), to paralyze cardia and prevent spasms. It is transitory and symptoms will return in the majority of patients within a year.
- Drugs that reduce LES pressure such as nifedipine and nitroglycerin may be useful.
- Heller myotomy laparoscopic surgery.
- Transplant and artificial cardia.
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