Health Information

Esophageal spasm

Esophageal spasm


Diffuse esophageal spasm; Spasm of the esophagus

Esophageal spasms are abnormal contractions of the muscles in the esophagus (the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach). These spasms do not move food effectively to the stomach.

I Would Like to Learn About:

  • Causes

    The cause of esophageal spasm is unknown. Very hot or very cold foods may trigger an episode in some people.

  • Symptoms

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

    It can be hard to tell a spasm from angina pectoris, a symptom of heart disease. The pain may spread to the neck, jaw, arms, or back

  • Exams and Tests

    • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)
    • Esophageal manometry
    • Esophagogram (barium swallow x-ray)
  • Treatment

    Nitroglycerin given under the tongue (sublingual) may help a sudden episode of esophageal spasm. Long-acting nitroglycerin and calcium channel blockers are also used for the problem.

    Long-term (chronic) cases are sometimes treated with low-dose antidepressants such as trazodone or nortriptyline to reduce symptoms.

    Rarely, severe cases may need dilation (widening) of the esophagus or surgery. to control symptoms

  • Outlook (Prognosis)

    An esophageal spasm may come and go (intermittent) or last for a long time (chronic). Medicine can help relieve symptoms.

  • Possible Complications

    The condition may not respond to treatment.

  • When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of esophageal spasm that don't go away.

  • Prevention

    Avoid very hot or very cold foods if you get esophageal spasms.

Related Information

  Muscle crampsAngina     Coronary artery di...


Kahrilas PJ, Pandolfino JE. Esophageal neuromuscular function and motility disorders. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2010:chap 42.


Review Date: 10/8/2012  

Reviewed By: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, and Stephanie Slon.

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