Overview

Esophageal spasms are painful contractions within the muscular tube connecting your mouth and stomach (esophagus). Esophageal spasms can feel like sudden, severe chest pain that lasts from a few minutes to hours. Some people may mistake it for heart pain (angina).

Esophageal spasms typically occur only occasionally and might not need treatment. But sometimes the spasms are frequent and can prevent food and liquids from traveling through the esophagus. If esophageal spasms interfere with your ability to eat or drink, treatments are available.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of esophageal spasms include:

  • Squeezing pain in your chest. The pain is often intense, and you might mistake it for heart pain (angina).
  • Difficulty swallowing solids and liquids, sometimes related to swallowing specific substances, such as red wine or extremely hot or cold liquids.
  • The feeling that an object is stuck in your throat.
  • The return of food and liquids back up your esophagus (regurgitation).

When to see a doctor

The squeezing chest pain associated with esophageal spasms can also be caused by a heart attack. If you experience squeezing chest pain, seek immediate medical care.

Causes

It's not clear what causes esophageal spasms. However, they appear to be related to abnormal functioning of nerves that control the muscles you use when you swallow.

A healthy esophagus normally moves food into your stomach through a series of coordinated muscle contractions. Esophageal spasms make it difficult for the muscles in the walls of your lower esophagus to coordinate in order to move food to your stomach.

There are two types of esophageal spasms — distal esophageal spasm and hypercontractile esophagus, also referred to as jackhammer esophagus.

Risk factors

There are no known risk factors for esophageal spasms.

Oct. 23, 2020
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