The lower esophageal sphincter, the ring-shaped muscle at the bottom of the esophagus, normally relaxes during swallowing. In people with achalasia, this muscle ring does not relax as well. The reason for this problem is damage to the nerves of the esophagus. In some people, this problem appears to be inherited. There is additionally a suspected autoimmune component involved in the development of achalasia as individuals with achalasia are more likely to have a concomitant autoimmune disease than the general population.
Last updated: 3/15/2016
How might achalasia be treated?
The aim of treatment is to reduce the pressure at the lower esophageal sphincter. Therapy may involve:
Injection with botulinum toxin (Botox) to help relax the sphincter muscles (used as a temporary fix)
Medications, such as long-acting nitrates (i.e. isosorbide dinitrate) or calcium channel blockers (i.e. nifedipine), to relax the lower esophagus sphincter
Surgery (Heller myotomy) to decrease the pressure in the lower sphincter
A doctor should help to determine the best treatment for each individual situation.
Last updated: 7/20/2011
How can I learn about research related to achalasia?
ClinicalTrials.gov lists trials that are studying or have studied achalasia. Click on the link to go to ClinicalTrials.gov to read descriptions of these studies.
You can also contact the Patient Recruitment and Public Liaison (PRPL) Office at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). We recommend calling 800-411-1222 to speak with a specialist, who can help you determine if you are eligible for any clinical trials.