Achalasia is a medical condition that affects the lower end of your esophagus. Your esophagus helps to guide food from your throat to your stomach, but if it fails to work properly, problems can ensue, and that’s what happens with achalasia. With this condition, the lower esophageal sphincter fails to open when food passes down the esophagus. This creates a backup of food within your esophagus, and you can understand why this would be problematic. Today, we take a closer look at why this condition develops and how it is treated.
The Causes and Symptoms of Achalasia
Achalasia can develop for a couple of different reasons. Some cases are caused by hereditary abnormalities, others are caused by autoimmune disorders, but the most common cause of achalasia is due to nerve damage in the esophagus. Esophageal cancer can also damage the lower esophageal sphincter and lead to symptoms that mirror achalasia.
Symptoms of achalasia include:
- Pain or discomfort in the chest
- Unexplained weight loss
- Pain after eating
- Regurgitation or vomiting
- Difficulty swallowing
Diagnosing and Treating Achalasia
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, seek out an endocrine specialist like Dr. Koeplin. Your doctor will perform a physical exam of your head and throat while asking about your symptoms, and if they suspect achalasia, they may confirm their suspicions with the help of an esophageal manometry. This test involves placing a small tube in your esophagus while you swallow. The tube records your muscle activity, and it can help to determine if the esophageal sphincter is functioning correctly.
There are also imaging tests that can be performed to view the functionality of your lower esophageal sphincter. These can involve an X-ray, an endoscopy, or a barium swallow. Your doctor can walk you through each of these tests depending on which method they believe will work best.
The goal of treatment is to either reduce symptoms or permanently address the malfunctioning valve. In some cases, the endocrine surgeon may insert a balloon the help improve the function of the sphincter, but the most common treatment option is surgery. Surgery typically involves performing an esophagomyotomy, which is an operation that corrects the problem by working to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter muscles. Surgery has a very high rate of success, as nearly 95 percent of people experience at least some symptom relief.
If surgery cannot be performed, botox injections can help to relax the sphincter and help food pass into the stomach, although sometimes this can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease, where stomach acid makes its way back up into the esophageal canal. For more information, or to talk to an endocrine surgeon about your options, contact Dr. Koeplin’s office today.