Achalasia is an esophageal motility condition that affects 1 in 100,000 people and has no cure.  If you have been experiencing common symptoms of achalasia or were recently diagnosed with the disorder, you probably want to know more about it. In this article, we dive into the ins and outs of achalasia including what it is, the symptoms presented, how it’s diagnosed, and the most common methods of treatment.

What is achalasia?

Typically when you swallow, the muscles in your esophagus contract to move food or liquid through to the stomach. In esophageal achalasia, the esophagus does not open to let food pass through. This is often due to nerve damage in the esophagus, though the direct cause is unknown. As a result, the esophagus has issues contracting to push food down and the lower esophageal sphincter tightens, making it difficult for food to pass into your stomach.

Symptoms of Achalasia

One telltale symptom of achalasia is difficulty swallowing or the feeling that something is stuck in the back of your throat. Many of the symptoms associated with achalasia are also indicative of other gastrointestinal issues such as acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Other common symptoms of achalasia include:

  • Pain in the chest

  • Regurgitation

  • Heartburn

  • Weight loss

  • Discomfort after eating

Diagnosing Achalasia

Because achalasia symptoms are similar to those of GERD and other disorders, this makes diagnosing achalasia more difficult. Some tests to diagnose achalasia include the barium swallow test or esophageal motility study.

Achalasia Treatment

There are treatment options available to help manage symptoms of Achalasia, but there is currently no permanent cure or treatment to repair the cause of Achalasia. Treatment options for achalasia include:

  • Medication: There are medications that work to help relax the LES, but most are fairly ineffective and would need to be taken for life since there is no cure.  

  • Balloon Dilation: Balloon dilation is the most effective nonsurgical option for Achalasia and a good option for patients who may not be be candidates for surgery. During an endoscopy, a balloon is placed through the mouth and down to the valve between the esophagus and stomach, where it is then inflated to weaken the muscle. Balloon dilations can provide Achalasia relief and improvement in swallowing for a good amount of time. 

  • Surgery: The surgery used to treat Achalasia is the Heller myotomy, a laparoscopic procedure which involves cutting the muscle of the LES to relieve swallowing issues and allow food to pass through. During the procedure, the LES is then partially rebuilt to prevent reflux from occurring post-surgery. Surgery has proven to be the most successful long-term treatment method for Achalasia. 

If you are suffering from symptoms that could be indicative of achalasia, call your doctor today to make an appointment. While there is no permanent cure for achalasia, the treatments listed above can drastically improve the quality of life for patients with achalasia, and keep symptoms at bay long-term.