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What is achalasia?

Achalasia is a rare disease of the esophagus muscle. The lower esophageal sphincter is a muscular ring at the point where the esophagus and stomach meet. Achalasia, which means "failure to relax," occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter fails to open and let food pass into the stomach. In addition, the normal muscle activity of the esophagus is reduced. As a result, patients with achalasia have difficulty swallowing food.

Our approach

The goal of all achalasia treatments is to relieve the tension of the esophagus due to increased pressure at the lower end of it. At Northwell Health, a variety of specialists work together to repair this condition. Treatments include:

  • Balloon dilatation – Often, the first treatment will be administered by a gastroenterologist, who may try to perform balloon dilatation or injection of Botox® into the area. These treatments may help but are often only temporary.
  • Surgery – Robotic surgical treatment such as the modified Heller myotomy is often used successfully for this disorder to open up the muscle fibers.

The risks of vomiting and aspiration pneumonia, as well as inflammation of your lungs and bronchial tubes, are decreased after myotomy, and many people can resume a normal diet after undergoing the procedure.

Symptoms

Symptoms of achalasia include:

  • Throwing up food
  • Chest pain, especially after eating
  • Cough
  • Difficulty swallowing liquids and solids
  • Heartburn
  • Weight loss

Causes

This problem is caused by damage to the nerves of the esophagus. Other problems, such as cancer of the esophagus or upper stomach, can cause similar symptoms of achalasia.

Achalasia is rare. It may occur at any age, but is most common in middle-aged or older adults. The problem may be inherited in some people.