Achalasia  –  Know It All!


All you need to know about Achalasia.

Know your ailment well, so you can manage it better!!

Here we come with Achalasia today!


What is Achalasia?

Achalasia is a rare condition that makes it hard for food and liquid to move through your stomach from the swallowing tube that connects your mouth and stomach (esophagus).

Achalasia happens when nerves get weakened in the esophagus. As a consequence, over time, the esophagus becomes paralyzed and dilated and gradually loses the capacity to squeeze food into the stomach. In the esophagus, food is then stored, often fermented, and washed back into the mouth, which can taste bitter. This is mistaken by some individuals for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). However, the food comes from the esophagus in achalasia, while the substance comes from the stomach in GERD.

There is no remedy for achalasia. The muscle can not function properly again until the esophagus is paralyzed. But with endoscopy, minimally invasive treatment, or surgery, symptoms may typically be treated.

Who Gets affected?

Achalasia typically occurs later in life, but in adolescents, it may also occur. People who are middle-aged and older are at greater risk for the disease. Achalasia is more common in individuals with autoimmune disorders as well.


What causes Achalasia?

The cause of achalasia is unidentified. Infection, inheritance, or an abnormality of the immune system that causes the body itself to damage the esophagus (an autoimmune disease) is invoked by causation theories.

Both muscles and nerves are located in the esophagus. In the body of the esophagus, the nerves regulate the relaxation and opening of the sphincters as well as the peristaltic waves. Achalasia affects both the muscles and nerves of the esophagus, but it is known that the effects on the nerves are the most important. Inflammation can be seen in the muscle of the lower esophagus, particularly around the nerves, early in achalasia (when a medical professional examines esophageal tissue under the microscope). As the illness progresses, the nerves, particularly the nerves that cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, begin to degenerate and eventually disappear. Muscle cells begin to degenerate much later in the development of the disease, likely because of nerve damage. A lower sphincter that can not relax and a muscle in the lower esophageal body that can not support peristaltic waves are the results of these changes. The body of the esophagus expands over time and becomes swollen (dilated).

Achalasia was described by Sir Thomas Willis in 1672. The disease was described by von Mikulicz in 1881 as a cardiospasm to demonstrate that the symptoms were due to a functional rather than a mechanical problem. Hurt and Rake discovered in 1929 that the illness was caused by a failure to relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The word achalasia, meaning the inability to relax, was coined by them.

Achalasia is a primary disorder of esophageal motility distinguished in response to swallowing by the absence of esophageal peristalsis and impaired relaxation of LES. In nearly 50 percent of patients, LES is hypertensive. A functional obstruction at the gastroesophageal junction causes these anomalies.


Incidence of the USA:

The frequency of achalasia per 100,000 individuals is roughly 1 per year.

In spinal cord injury (SCI) patients, the occurrence of esophageal dysmotility appears to be growing. In a sample of 12 paraplegia patients (level of injury between T4-T12), 13 tetraplegia patients (level of injury between C5-C7), and 14 able-bodied patients, Radulovic et al found that 21 of the 25 patients (84%) with SCI had at least one esophageal motility abnormality, compared with 1 of the 14 able-bodied patients (7%). Form II achalasia (12%), type III achalasia (4%), esophagogastric junction outflow obstruction (20%), hypercontractile esophagus (4%), and peristaltic anomalies (weak peristalsis with small or large defects or repeated failed peristalsis) were among the anomalies seen in SCI patients (48%).

In patients with anorexia nervosa, altered esophageal motility is often seen. It is often seen in patients following the eradication of esophageal varices through endoscopic sclerotherapy, in combination with an increased number of endoscopic sessions, although not with manometric parameters. Following endoscopic sclerotherapy, esophageal motility characteristics include a faulty lower sphincter and faulty sphincter.

Data on International Data

The mean incidence of achalasia in children was 0.1 per 100,000 individuals per year in a retrospective analysis (1990–2013) from the Netherlands. Among those who underwent pneumatization, recurrence rates after initial treatment were higher (79 percent) than in Heller myotomy (21 percent), but complications occurred more often after Heller myotomy (55.6 percent) than with pneumo dilation (1.5 percent).

Achalasia can cause a similar disorder to Chagas disease.

Sex- and demographics linked to age

Achalasia’s male to female ratio is 1:1.

In adults aged 25–60 years, Achalasia usually occurs. In infants, less than 5 percent of cases occur.


What are the symptoms of Achalasia?

Achalasia symptoms generally appear gradually and worsen over time. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Inability to swallow (dysphagia), which may feel like food or drink is stuck in your throat
  • Regurgitating food or saliva
  • Heartburn
  • Belching
  • Chest pain that comes and goes
  • Coughing at night
  • Pneumonia (from aspiration of food into the lungs)
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting

How is Achalasia diagnosed?

Achalasia is also accused of being diagnosed on the basis of history. For solid and liquid foods, patients typically describe gradual (worsening) swallowing (dysphagia) over a period of months to years. They can notice food regurgitation, pain in the chest, or weight loss. Rarely is aspiration pneumonia the first symptom.

Since patients usually learn by taking smaller bites, swallowing properly, and eating slowly to compensate for their dysphagia, the diagnosis of achalasia is often delayed by months or even years. The delay in diagnosing achalasia is unfortunate because it is known that early treatment will avoid esophageal dilation and its complications — before marked dilation of the esophagus occurs.

Achalasia dysphagia is also distinct from esophageal stricture dysphagia (esophageal narrowing due to scarring) and esophageal cancer. Dysphagia usually occurs in both solid and liquid food in achalasia, whereas dysphagia typically occurs only with solid food and not liquids in esophageal stricture and cancer, until very late in the progression of the stricture. The progressive worsening of dysphagia is more rapid, especially with cancer.


X-ray studies

Achalasia is typically diagnosed by an X-ray examination called a video-esophagram in which after barium is swallowed, video X-rays of the esophagus are taken. The barium fills the esophagus, and it is possible to witness the barium emptying into the stomach. The video-esophagram indicates that the esophagus is dilated (enlarged or widened) in achalasia, with a distinctive tapered narrowing of the lower end, often similar to a ‘bird’s beak.’ In addition, before moving into the stomach, the barium remains longer than average in the esophagus.

Esophageal manometry

The defects of muscle function that are characteristic of achalasia, that is, the failure of the muscle of the esophageal body to contract with swallowing and the failure of the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, can be precisely demonstrated by another test, esophageal manometry. A thin tube is passed through the nose, down the back of the throat, and into the esophagus for manometry, which measures the pressure produced by the contracting esophageal muscle. No peristaltic waves in the lower half of the esophagus are seen after swallowing in a patient with achalasia, and the pressure inside the contracted lower esophageal sphincter does not fall with the swallow. A powerful simultaneous contraction of the muscle can be seen in the lower esophageal body in patients with vigorous achalasia. A benefit of manometry is that at a time when the video-esophagram might be normal, it can diagnose achalasia early in its path.


Endoscopy is also useful in the diagnosis of achalasia, while early achalasia may be common. Endoscopy is a process in which a flexible fiber-optic tube is swallowed with a light and a camera at the end. The camera provides the inside of the esophagus with direct visualization. Resistance, when the endoscope is moved from the esophagus and into the stomach due to the high pressure in the lower esophageal sphincter, is one of the earliest endoscopic results of achalasia. A dilated esophagus and a lack of peristaltic waves can be exposed by endoscopy later. As it eliminates the existence of esophageal cancer and other causes of dysphagia, endoscopy is also essential.

Achalasia, esophageal cancer, and Chagas disease (Chagas) of the esophagus may be imitated by two conditions. Video-esophageal and manometric anomalies that are indistinguishable from achalasia may be induced by both. Fortunately, the presence of cancer will normally be excluded by endoscopy. Computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging ( MRI) of the lowermost esophagus may be conducted to classify cancers near the lower esophageal sphincter if there is a further concern.

Chagas disease is an infection caused by Trypanosoma cruzi, a parasite, and is confined to Central and South America. It is transmitted from the Reduviid bug to humans by insect bites. At the moment it is biting, the parasite is shed in the feces of the insect. Scratching the bite splits the skin and helps the body to get into the parasite. The parasite spreads throughout the body but takes up primary residence in the gastrointestinal tract muscles, from the esophagus to the rectum, although the heart muscle is also frequently affected. The parasite causes degeneration of the nerves controlling the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract and can result in abnormal function anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract. The abnormalities are similar to those of achalasia as it impacts the esophagus.

Acute Chagas’ disease often occurs in adolescents. The acute disease is long-gone in those individuals that are treated at a far later time for swallowing difficulties. Diagnosis of Chagas disease can be suspected if other areas of the gastrointestinal tract, such as the small intestine or colon dilation and the heart, are involved. Serological tests searching for antibodies against the parasite in the blood are the best way of making a diagnosis.


What is the treatment for Achalasia?

Achalasia therapy focuses on the lower esophageal sphincter being relaxed or extended open so that food and liquid can pass into the digestive tract more easily.

Specific therapy depends on your age, your fitness, and the nature of your achalasia.

Nonsurgical treatment:

Nonsurgical options include:

  • Pneumatic dilation. A balloon is inserted into the middle of the esophageal sphincter by endoscopy and inflated in order to expand the cavity. If the esophageal sphincter doesn’t remain open, this outpatient procedure can need to be repeated. Within five years, almost one-third of individuals treated with balloon dilation need repeat care. Sedation requires this process.
  • Botox (botulinum toxin type A). You may directly inject this muscle relaxant with an endoscopic needle into the esophageal sphincter. It may be necessary to repeat the injections, and repeated injections may make it more difficult to perform surgery later if necessary.

Botox is usually prescribed only for people who, due to age or overall health, are not suitable candidates for pneumatic dilation or surgery. Usually, botox injections do not last longer than six months. A major change from Botox injection can help to confirm the diagnosis of achalasia.

  • Medication. Before feeding, your doctor might prescribe muscle relaxants like nitroglycerin or nifedipine. There are minimal treatment effects and serious side effects of these drugs. Usually, drugs are used only if you are not a candidate for surgery or pneumatic dilation, and Botox has not helped. Rarely is this type of therapy suggested.


Surgical options for treating achalasia include:

  • Heller myotomy. At the lower end of the esophageal sphincter, the surgeon cuts the muscle to allow food to pass into the stomach more easily. The operation (laparoscopic Heller myotomy) may be performed noninvasively. Gastroesophageal reflux disease ( GERD) may later develop in some individuals who have a Heller myotomy.
  • A procedure known as fundoplication may be done at the same time as a Heller myotomy in order to prevent potential complications with GERD. The surgeon wraps the top of the stomach around the lower esophagus in fundoplication to create an anti-reflux valve, preventing the return of acid (GERD) into the esophagus. Fundoplication is typically performed with a technique that is minimally invasive (laparoscopic).
  • Peroral endoscopic myotomy (POEM). In the POEM technique, to make an incision in the inner lining of your esophagus, the surgeon uses an endoscope inserted into your mouth and down your throat. Then, as in a Heller myotomy, at the lower end of the esophageal sphincter, the surgeon slices the muscle.
  • To help avoid GERD, POEM can also be combined with or accompanied by later fundoplication. Some patients are treated with regular oral medicine if they have a POEM and develop GERD after the operation.


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Gopala Krishna Varshith,

Content Developer & Editor,