Achalasia is a disorder of the esophagus, the passageway for food to travel from the mouth to the stomach. Where the esophagus and stomach meet, a muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) has the responsibility of keeping food, liquid, and stomach acid from the stomach out of the esophageal tube. When swallowing food the LES opens to allow food to be pushed down by nerve signals in a process called peristalsis. These functions do not occur properly in those with Achalasia and can, as a result, suffer from symptoms such as coughing, chest pain (after or during meals) and regurgitation of food, heartburn, or unintentional weight loss.
The Mayo Clinic, ranked #1 in digestive disorders by "U.S. News & World Report" in their Best Hospitals rankings, details numerous ways that Achalasia can be treated. While there is no cure for the rare disorder there are different options one can take to manage the condition.
A list of treatments provided by The Mayo Clinic website are:
1. Oral Medication;
2. Botox Injections;
3. Pneumatic (Balloon) Dilation; and
Oral medication is recommended for those only in the early stages of the disorder and Botox injections for those who are at a high risk for complications during surgery. Surgery is designed to repair the lower esophageal sphincter giving it the capabilities to perform its natural function properly. Botulinum Toxin, or Botox, is injected into the LES weakening the muscle and allowing for food to pass properly through the esophageal tube.
A unique procedure is that of the Pneumatic Dialtion. A balloon is inserted into the esophagus to stretch the LES, a function that usually occurs during peristalsis. “This procedure is successful 50 to 80 percent of the time and does not require hospitalization. If balloon dilatation is successful, its benefits are usually permanent. However, a small number of people may need repeat treatment if the esophageal sphincter contracts.” The danger of the pneumatic dilation procedure is the ripping of the esophagus during treatment. If this occurs, an immediate surgery to repair the tear should take place.