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Esophageal spasm is a condition characterized by irregular, uncoordinated, and sometimes powerful contractions of the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.

Esophageal contractions should be present, but they should also be well coordinated, moving food through the esophagus and into the stomach. It is easy to understand that they are very important because they can prevent food from reaching the stomach, leaving it stuck in the esophagus. Esophageal spasms are, on the other hand, a very rare condition.[1]

The problem is that symptoms which may suggest an esophageal spasm are often the result of some other condition such as [1]:

  • Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Achalasia — a problem with the nervous system in which the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) doesn't work properly
  • Anxiety or panic attacks

The cause of esophageal spasms is unknown. Many doctors believe an esophageal spasm results from a disruption of the nerve activity that coordinates the swallowing action of the esophagus. Very hot or very cold foods may trigger spasms in some people. [2]

Types Of Esophageal Spasms

Generally speaking, esophageal spasms can be subdivided into two distinct entities [3]:

Diffuse esophageal spasm (DES), in which contractions are uncoordinated. Several segments of the esophagus contract simultaneously, preventing the propagation of food.

Nutcracker esophagus, in which contractions proceed in a coordinated manner, but the amplitude is excessive.

The Most Common Symptoms Of Esophageal Spasms

  • Chest pain - Most people with esophageal spasms have chest pain that may spread outward to the arms, back, neck, or jaw. This pain can feel similar to a heart attack.
  • Difficulty or inability to swallow food or liquid
  • Pain when swallowing
  • The feeling that food is caught in the center of the chest
  • A burning sensation in the chest (heartburn) [2]
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