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What are esophageal spasms?

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Quick Answer

Esophageal spasms occur when normal contractions of the esophagus become irregular, uncoordinated or stronger than normal, according to the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. Diffuse esophageal spasm and nutcracker esophagus are the two main types esophageal spasms, according to WebMD. Diffuse esophageal spasm prevents food from going down normally and nutcracker esophagus makes normal esophageal squeezing stronger and more painful.

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Full Answer

According to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, symptoms include chest pain, difficulty swallowing and the sensation of food being stuck in the chest. Especially with nutcracker esophagus, chest pain is described as being similar to a heart attack, with pain starting in the chest and sometimes radiating to the arms, neck or jaw, according to WebMD. Esophageal manometry, a barium swallow or upper GI endoscopy, especially if symptoms include the sensation of food being stuck in the chest, are used to diagnose esophageal spasms, according to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. BoTox, more commonly known as the cosmetic drug that paralyzes facial muscles, is one treatment for this condition, as are other muscle-relaxing drugs, such as nitrates and calcium channel blockers. Peppermint oil can be effective, and lower esophageal surgery may be tried as a last resort. According to Norris Cotton Cancer Center, lifestyle changes and acid reducers that ease the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) also help with symptoms of esophageal spasms.

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