Esophageal achalasia, also called simply achalasia, is a neuromuscular disorder of the esophagus characterized by the reduced ability to move food down the esophagus (peristalsis). In addition, the inability of the cardia ( also called lower esophageal sphincter)- to relax in response to swallowing (there is increased LES pressure- spasms).

Signs and symptoms

  • Dysphagia
  • Regurgitation of digested food
  • Heartburn
  • Chest pains : increases after eating and may radiate to the back, neck, and arms.
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing, especially at night or when lying down


Due to the similarity of symptoms, achalasia can be misdiagnosed as other disorders, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and Chagas disease.

X-ray with a barium swallow or esophagography . Shows narrowing at the level of the gastroesophageal junction ("bird beak"), and various degrees of megaesophagus (esophageal dilation).

Endoscopy, which provides a view from within the esophagus. Manometry, the key test for establishing the diagnosis. Measures the pressure induced in different parts of the esophagus and stomach during the act of swallowing. CT scan, which provides further visual evidence.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease-GERD or heartburn. Barrett's esophagus or Barrett's mucosa: in 10% of patients. There are two kinds of esophageal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. There are predisposing conditions that, if present for a long time, may lead to esophageal adenocarcinoma, like achalasia (in up to 5% of cases, Barrett's esophagus leads to esophageal adenocarcinoma).


Balloon (pneumatic) dilation. The muscle fibers will be stretched. Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) occurs after dilatation in 25% to 35% of patients. Is a risk to later Heller myotomy.

Intra-sphincteric injection of botulinum toxin (or botox), to paralyze cardia and prevent spasms. It is transitory and symptoms will return in the majority of patients within a year. Drugs that reduce LES pressure such as nifedipine and nitroglycerin may be useful.

previous.gif (72x17 -- 347 bytes) next.gif (72x17 -- 277 bytes)

Are you a Doctor, Pharmacist, PA or a Nurse?

Join the Doctors Lounge online medical community

  • Editorial activities: Publish, peer review, edit online articles.

  • Ask a Doctor Teams: Respond to patient questions and discuss challenging presentations with other members.

Doctors Lounge Membership Application

Tools & Services: Follow DoctorsLounge on Twitter Follow us on Twitter | RSS News | Newsletter | Contact us