What is achalasia?
Achalasia is a condition in which the muscles in the lower part of the esophagus are unable to relax. This condition causes difficulty swallowing and dilation of the esophagus. Achalasia occurs as a result of dysfunction of the muscles in the area called the esophageal sphincter, where the muscles between the esophagus and stomach relax, open and close. These muscles normally open the lower end of the esophagus, allowing the passage of food and liquids to the stomach. However, in achalasia, these muscles cannot relax, and therefore swallowing becomes difficult and food accumulation and expansion occurs in the esophagus. In this case, swallowing becomes difficult and can be a painful process.
Achalasia usually affects people between the ages of 25 and 60 and is a rare disease. Although the exact cause of this disease is unknown, it is thought that factors such as nervous system disorders or dysfunction of the muscles in the esophagus may cause the disease.
Symptoms of achalasia include difficulty swallowing, a feeling of food getting stuck in the esophagus, chest pain, vomiting, indigestion, weight loss, and esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus). These symptoms may increase with the progression of the disease and affect the patient’s daily life.
A physical examination, blood tests, x-rays and endoscopy by a gastroenterologist (gastrointestinal tract specialist) can be performed to diagnose achalasia. Endoscopy uses a tube to view the inside of the esophagus. During an endoscopy, the doctor can measure how much the muscles at the lower end of the esophagus can relax.
Treatment of achalasia is aimed at relieving symptoms. Treatment options include medications, dilatation, and surgery. The drugs relax the muscles at the lower end of the esophagus, making it easier to swallow. The dilation procedure helps to expand the muscles at the lower end of the esophagus. In this procedure, a balloon is inserted into the esophagus and inflated. The balloon expands the muscles and makes it easier to swallow.