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Esophageal spasm

Alternative names

Diffuse esophageal spasm; Spasm of the esophagus


Esophageal spasms involve irregular contractions of the muscles in the esophagus, which is the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. These spasms do not propel food effectively to the stomach.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The cause of esophageal spasm is unknown. Very hot or very cold foods may trigger an episode in some people. The pain may be indistinguishable from angina and may radiate to the neck, jaw, arms, or back.


  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain with swallowing
  • Heartburn
  • Pain in the chest or upper abdomen

Signs and tests

An esophagogram shows irregular contractions of the esophagus. Esophageal manometry shows esophageal spasms .


Sublingual (beneath the tongue) nitroglycerin may be effective in an acute episode. Long-acting nitroglycerin and calcium channel blockers are also used to treat esophageal spasms.

Rarely, severe cases require surgery.

Expectations (prognosis)

An esophageal spasm may be an intermittent or chronic condition. Relief of symptoms is usually achieved with medication.


The condition may not respond to treatment.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have persistent esophageal spasm symptoms.


Avoid very hot or very cold foods if you are prone to esophageal spasms.

Update Date: 10/27/2002

Jenifer K. Lehrer, M.D., Department of Gastroenterology, Graduate Hospital, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT