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Achalasia – Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Achalasia is a rare condition that affects the esophagus, the tube-like organ that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. People with this disorder experience difficulty swallowing, regurgitation of undigested food, chest pains, heartburn, and weight loss. Extremely painful for some sufferers, achalasia tends to become progressively worse over time, and can even lead to an inability to digest liquids. Belonging to a family of conditions called esophageal motility disorders, achalasia is believed to affect one to two people in every 200,000. The disease can occur at any age but is most often diagnosed in patients between 25 and 60. It is believed that individuals with this condition have a higher risk of developing cancer of the esophagus.

What causes achalasia? The exact cause of this esophageal motility disorder is unknown. Most cases are associated with a loss of esophageal peristalsis, a series of wave-like contractions of smooth muscles in the esophagus that “push” food to the stomach. In conjunction with peristalsis, a hypertensive and non-relaxed lower esophageal sphincter can also contribute to the condition. Researchers believe that achalasia may be linked to:

  • Neurodegeneration
  • Viral infection
  • Hereditary abnormality
  • Autoimmunity
  • Cancer

Treatment for achalasia customarily hinges on the severity of the condition. The goal of any treatment is to reduce pressure in the lower part of the esophagus to permit food and liquid to pass from the esophagus to the stomach normally once again. Available treatments include the prescription of oral medication, dilation of the lower esophageal sphincter, surgical manipulation of the sphincter, or the injection of botulinum toxin to relax the hypertensive sphincter muscle.

Achalasia is one of many esophageal motility disorders that the gastroenterological specialists at Tampa General Hospital’s Endoscopy Center diagnose and treat. We provide advanced care for a wide array of gastroenterological conditions using advanced medical technology. Tampa General Hospital is recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation's best hospitals and highest ranked in Florida for Gastroenterology & GI Surgery.

To find a gastroenterologist, use our Physician Finder or call 1-800-833-3627.