Esophageal Spasms

Updated November 21, 2016

The oesophagus is a long, hollow tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Esophageal spasms are unnatural contractions of the muscles in the oesophagus. Spasms can be painful and dangerous, as food can become stuck in the oesophagus.


The symptoms of an esophageal spasm include swallowing difficulties, feeling like an object is stuck in the throat or in the middle of the chest and regurgitation. Esophageal spasms are sometimes mistaken for a heart attack due to chest pains spreading to the jaw, neck, arms and back.

Causes and Risk Factors

According to the Mayo Clinic, the cause of esophageal spasms is unknown. Factors that increase the risk of esophageal spasms are eating very cold or very hot foods, gastro-oseophageal reflux disease (GERD), anxiety, stress and heartburn. Esophageal spasms are more common in women.


To confirm esophageal spasms, doctors may perform X-rays of the oesophagus, test the swallowing muscles or perform an upper endoscopy. This procedure is performed to examine the oesophagus by passing a thin tube with an attached camera through the mouth and down into the throat.


Treatments for frequent esophageal spasms include managing any conditions that trigger spasms, muscle relaxers and pain relievers. In rare and severe cases, surgery may be the only option. A myotomy is performed by cutting the muscles in the oesophagus to weaken contractions.

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About the Author

Billie Abbott is a freelance writer, producing articles for numerous websites, including ParentDish and Gadling. She specializes in topics about gardening, animals, parenting and travel.