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Recognizing the Symptoms of Achalasia

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Achalasia is a serious condition that affects the esophagus. The muscle of the esophagus is unable to relax, making it difficult for the affected individual to swallow because the sphincter muscle will not open to allow food to flow into the stomach.

Achalasia is a rare condition, but it’s important to recognize the symptoms as soon as possible. Failure to seek treatment can lead to a number of complications, including inflammation of the esophagus, cancer, choking, and more.

So what are the main symptoms?

  • Dysphagia. Dysphagia is the scientific term used when a person has difficulty swallowing. The symptom is consistent and happens every single time the person attempts to eat.
  • Heaviness or mild pain in the chest. Some patients report feeling heaviness in the chest because the food does not pass through to the stomach properly. Sometimes this heaviness causes severe pain, causing the individual to believe he is having a heart attack.
  • Regurgitation. When food becomes trapped a person suffering from achalasia may regurgitate it. This regurgitation happens more often at night, when the food passes back up into the throat and causes the individual to cough or choke.
  • Aspiration pneumonia. When food or liquid regurgitates there is a chance it will be aspirated (breathed) into the lungs instead of swallowed into the stomach. If this happens the patient may develop a form of pneumonia.

It’s incredibly important for you to seek immediate medical attention if you begin to have regular problems swallowing your food. The earlier you seek treatment the better your chances of reducing or eliminating the side effects of this dangerous condition.

Deborah Dera is a full-time freelance writer, massage therapist, martial artist, and student of life. She spends most of her time studying the human body, musculature, nutrition, and both traditional and alternative therapies. She enjoys exploring the fashion world as well – including anything related to UGG slippers, contemporary styles, and beauty!

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EmpowHER Guest

I read an online article you had written, and I would like to get some feedback from you, if you would please just read and see if you have any interest. I have just been diagnosed with Achalasia after repeated episodes of severe chest pain due to swallowing. It doesn’t FEEL LIKE difficulty swallowing, it feels more like an elephant stepping on my chest and it happens AS A RESULT OF swallowing. It never really FEELS stuck, it just hurts. I first recognized this happening at about age 20 or so, but it wasn’t until age 40 or 42 that I actually had a black out as a result of this pain. I was at the dinner table, felt the pain after swallowing, and literally blacked out. I awoke to a sensation that my body was in a sort of ‘seizure.’ My extremities were shaking or seizing, my head was bobbing, and I could sort of ‘sense’ this was happening. I regained consciousness, and within two minutes felt absolutely fine. I finished eating, and had no other difficulties.
I know that most people would have immediately gone to the emergency room, etc., but I am one of those folks who believes that some things just happen, and there is no need to panic and run off to get seen about and charged for nothing. Anyway, I still had the pain off and on for another year or two. Then I had another one, and another one and another one, in very short proximity to each other. I had one with my father sitting there with me, and he was mortified. He insisted that I go to the doctor. I did, and my GP said he thought it was “esophageal syncope” but sent me to a heart specialist to have everything checked out. I did every test known to man including wearing a monitor for 30 days to try to ‘capture’ one of these spells. This was in vain. I returned the instrument, told the doctor that nothing had happened, so he agreed with my GP, and they said that nothing, really, could be done about it, but to chew my food well, drink lots of water, and be careful about driving and having one.
This continued for 15 years. I am now almost 59 years old, and I continue to have this painful GRABBING of my esophagus and shaking it severely quite often. 18 months ago I had one while driving, but my doctor insisted it was something else. I had every test known to man, and he said that he thought I had some sort of hypo – something or other that basically meant I fell asleep very quickly without warning, and that caused my ‘black out’ before I literally rammed into the car in front of me while completely blacked out.
A month ago, I had my second accident the same way. I was stuck in afternoon rush hour traffic, took a bite of my lunch leftovers, and it hit immediately – a bad one, as I call it, where I immediately with little to no warning, blacked out. I awoke to the seizing and felt my car ramming into the car in front of me, veering off to the side and then hitting a concrete wall, which ultimately threw the car upside down in a slow-motion roll-over. I awoke to being upside down, having hit a car and caused the folks just sitting in the traffic to jump out of their cars and wonder what in the world just happened.
This time, a GI specialist saw me and began running tests. He said he never heard of ‘esophageal spasms with syncope’ and instead ran an endoscopy and esophageal manometry tests. He says I have this achalasia; however, everything I am reading says nothing of the blackouts and the seizing. Is there something you think I should talk with my doctor about – something that would point him in the right direction. I may have this achalasia; however, I think I have something else going on as well, but no one wants to look at this holistically and see what the real picture is.
I am hoping you are a Hugh Laurie fan and know our show, “Dr. House” and know that he is a diagnostician of great reknown. I am hoping you are this, or you know someone who is, or you can point me in the right direction. I am now full of anxiety about it. I went from, "It's no big deal," to "OH MY GOD, what am I going to do?" He says I need surgery to fix the muscle, but there it might not work, as I have left it 'untreated' for so long. Please know, I do not have these every time I swallow something – 10 -15 times per week would be the high end of having this pain, I have never thrown up or refluxed anything, and it doesn’t feel like difficulty swallowing. It just hurts like hell and causes me to blackout maybe once in 100 times. Can you help me? (By the way, I have two sons, 32 and 23 and they both have the same symptoms but have yet to have any blackouts. My first was at age 40-42.)

May 19, 2010 - 6:52am
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