Achalasia

Achalasia

National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.

Important

It is possible that the main title of the report Achalasia is not the name you expected. Please check the synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and disorder subdivision(s) covered by this report.

Synonyms

  • Cardiospasm
  • Dyssynergia Esophagus
  • Esophageal Aperistalsis
  • Megaesophagus

Disorder Subdivisions

  • None

General Discussion

Achalasia is a rare disorder of the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach. It is characterized by enlargement of the esophagus, impaired ability to push food down toward the stomach (peristalsis), and failure of the ring-shaped muscle at the bottom of the esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), to relax. It is the contraction and relaxation of the sphincter that moves food through the tube.

Symptoms

The symptoms of achalasia typically appear gradually. Most people with this disorder experience an impairment in the ability to swallow (dysphagia) as a major and early symptom. There may also be mild chest pain that comes and goes. Some affected individuals experience pain that is very intense.



Retention of saliva and ingested food in the esophagus may often cause regurgitation of these contents; in addition, such contents may also be propelled into the lungs during breathing (tracheobronchial aspiration). Other symptoms of this disorder may include a cough during the night and significant weight loss, because of difficulty in swallowing, in cases that remain untreated. Dry eyes (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) and dry mouth (xerostomia) are not unusual in patients with achalasia.



The aspiration of saliva and food contents by people with achalasia may cause pneumonia, other pulmonary infections, or even death. Cancer of the esophagus occurs in approximately 5 percent of cases of achalasia.

Causes

The exact cause of achalasia is not known. Some clinical researchers suspect that the condition may be caused by the degeneration of a group of nerves located in the chest (Auerbach's plexus). It is believed that there may be a rare, inherited form of achalasia, but this is not yet well understood at this time.

Affected Populations

Achalasia is a rare disorder that typically affects adults between the ages of 25 and 60 years. However, this disorder may occur at any age, including during childhood. Achalasia affects males and females in equal numbers except in cases that appear to reflect an inherited form. In those cases, it appears that males are twice as likely as females to be diagnosed with this disorder.

Standard Therapies

Diagnosis

X-ray examination (radiology) is frequently useful in the diagnosis of achalasia. Radiological examination, especially with the use of barium, may show enlargement (dilation) of the esophagus and the retention of food and secretions within the esophagus. Devices that measure fluid pressure (manometers) within the esophagus may also be useful in the diagnosis of this disorder.



Treatment

The treatment of achalasia is aimed at removing obstructions caused by the failure of the lower esophageal sphincter muscle to relax. This may be done with the administration of drugs, expanding the cross-section (manual dilation) of the sphincter muscle, or through surgery.



The drug isosorbide, (a long-acting nitrate) or nifedipine (a calcium channel blocker) may provide some relief for people with achalasia.



Approximately 85 percent of cases of achalasia may be treated effectively by the enlargement of the lower esophageal sphincter muscle through a procedure known as balloon dilation. This is a complicated procedure. In some people, repeated dilations may be necessary to obtain relief of symptoms.



Surgical treatment of achalasia may be effective in approximately 85 percent of cases. During this procedure, the muscle fibers in the lower esophageal sphincter are cut (Heller myotomy). About 15 percent of people with achalasia experience the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux after this surgical procedure.

Investigational Therapies

Information on current clinical trials is posted on the Internet at www.clinicaltrials.gov. All studies receiving U.S. government funding, and some supported by private industry, are posted on this government website.



For information about clinical trials being conducted at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD, contact the NIH Patient Recruitment Office:



Tollfree: (800) 411-1222

TTY: (866) 411-1010

Email: prpl@cc.nih.gov



For information about clinical trials sponsored by private sources, contact:

www.centerwatch.com



As of the summer of 2006, there were 3 clinical studies involving aspects of esophageal achalasia listed on www.clinicaltrials.gov.



One of these is designed to compare the effectiveness of treating the malfunctioning sphincter muscle surgically (laparoscopic myotomy) with that of the physical dilation of the muscle. This trial is sponsored by the University Health Network of the University of Toronto. The clinical trials identifier number is NCT00188344.



Another trial is being sponsored by the Heart, Lung, Esophageal Surgery Institute of the University of Pittsburgh and is designed to identify markers in the blood and tissue that may identify risk factors in the development and progression of esophageal cancer. The clinical trials identifier for this study is NCT00260585.



A third trial is designed to compare the accuracy of esophageal and anorectal manometric pressure measurements using a newly developed air-filled balloon catheter compared to measurements using the standard solid state manometers. This study is being carried out at the University of Utah. The clinical trial identifier for this study is NCT00204763.

References

TEXTBOOKS

Beers MH, Berkow R., eds. The Merck Manual, 17th ed. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories; 1999:230-31.



Berkow R., ed. The Merck Manual-Home Edition.2nd ed. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories; 2003:709.



Kasper, DL, Fauci AS, Longo DL, et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 16th ed. McGraw-Hill Companies. New York, NY; 2005:217-18.



Yamada T, Alpers DH, Kaplowitz N, Laine L, et al., eds. Textbook for Gastroenterology. 4th ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Philadelphia, PA; 2003:1178-84.



REVIEW ARTICLES

Luckey AE 3rd, DeMeester SR. Complications of achalasia surgery. Thorac Surg Clin. 2006;16:95-98.



Beckingham U. Achalasia of the cardia: dilatation or division? Is pneumatic balloon dilatation justifiable anymore? Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 2006;88:11-12.



Lamb PJ, Griffin SM. Achalasia of the cardia: dilatation or division? The case for balloon dilatation. Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 2006;88:9-11.



Richards WO, Torquati A, Lutfi R. The current treatment of achalasia. Adv Surg. 2005;39:285-314.



Levine MS, Rubesin SE. Diseases of the esophagus: diagnosis with esophagraphy. Radiology. 2005;237:414-27.



Woltman TA, Pellegrini CA, Oelschlager BK. Achalasia. Surg Clin North Am. 2005;85:483-93.



Boeckxstaens GE. The lower oesophageal sphincter. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 1005;17 Suppl 1:13-21.



FROM THE INTERNET

Stone C. Achalasia. Medical Encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. Update date: 5/11/2004. 3pp.

www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000267.htm



Esophageal Achalasia. SSAT Patient Care Guidelines. The Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract. Board Approved 2/1/03. 3pp.

www.ssat.com/cgi-bin/achalasia.cgi?affiliaton=other&referer=



Achalasia and Esophageal Motility Disorders. STS Patient Information. Society of Thoracic Surgeons. Last revised Jan-26-2000. 3pp.

www.sts.org/doc/4120



Patti M. Achalasia. emedicine. Last Updated: June 2, 2005. 7pp.

www.emedicine.com/med/topic16.htm



Digestive Problems. Esophagus - Achalasia. Digestive Disease Center. Medical University of South Carolina. Page last updated March 28, 2005.

www.ddc.musc.edu/ddc_pub/digestiveProbs/diseases/esophagus/achalasia.htm

Resources

March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation

1275 Mamaroneck Avenue

White Plains, NY 10605

Tel: (914)997-4488

Fax: (914)997-4763

Tel: (888)663-4637

Email: Askus@marchofdimes.com

Internet: http://www.marchofdimes.com



NIH/National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive & Kidney Diseases

Office of Communications & Public Liaison

Bldg 31, Rm 9A06

31 Center Drive, MSC 2560

Bethesda, MD 20892-2560

Tel: (301)496-3583

Email: NDDIC@info.niddk.nih.gov

Internet: http://www2.niddk.nih.gov/



Oley Foundation

214 Hun Memorial MC-28

Albany Medical Center

Albany, NY 12208-3478

USA

Tel: (518)262-5079

Fax: (518)262-5528

Tel: (800)776-6539

Email: dahlr@mail.amc.edu

Internet: http://www.oley.org



Genetic and Rare Diseases (GARD) Information Center

PO Box 8126

Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8126

Tel: (301)251-4925

Fax: (301)251-4911

Tel: (888)205-2311

TDD: (888)205-3223

Internet: http://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/GARD/



CORE

3 St. Andrews Place

London, NW1 4LB

United Kingdom

Tel: 02074860341

Fax: 02072242012

Email: info@corecharity.org.uk

Internet: http://www.corecharity.org.uk



Gastroparesis & Dysmotilities Association

5520 Dalhart Hill N.W.

Calgary, AB, T3A 1S9

Canada

Tel: 4032473215

Email: jkf@gpda.net

Internet: http://www.digestivedistress.com



For a Complete Report

This is an abstract of a report from the National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.® (NORD). Cigna members can access the complete report by logging into myCigna.com. For non-Cigna members, a copy of the complete report can be obtained for a small fee by visiting the NORD website. The complete report contains additional information including symptoms, causes, affected population, related disorders, standard and investigational treatments (if available), and references from medical literature. For a full-text version of this topic, see http://www.rarediseases.org/search/rdblist.html.

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