Esophageal Spasms: A painful side effect of GERD

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Esophageal spasms can cause a lot of pain, problems swallowing as well as vomiting.   Unfortunately they are also more common in people with GERD or acid reflux disease.   Normally the esophagus moves food through to the stomach in a coordinated way.   This process is called peristalsis.   Esophageal spasms can interrupt this process and cause a host of problems.

Some of the symptoms of esophageal spasms include: vomiting, squeezing chest pain, problems swallowing, feeling like food is stuck in your throat.   These symptoms must be evaluated by a physician to determine the cause and rule out heart related chest pain.

One of the best tests for diagnosing esophageal spasms is called esophageal manometry.   During an esophageal manometry test a tube is placed into the esophagus to asses the effectiveness of your esophageal muscles.   Other testing might include: tests to rule out heart disease, x-rays or a barium swallow and a scope or Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD).

Treatment for esophageal spasms often start with treating the condition that is exacerbating the issue.   For those with GERD it involves getting the acid under control.   Sometimes doctors will also prescribe medications that will relax the muscles involved in swallowing.   Antidepressants can also helpsome patients by interrupting the pain signal to the brain.   In very rare cases surgery may be needed to cut some of the muscles involved in the abnormal contractions thus lessening the spasms.

If you have any of these symptoms and your standard treatment is not working discuss the possibility of esophageal spasms with your doctor.     With proper treatments spasms can be reduced or eliminated in most cases.