Esophageal Spasm

Front view of man showing respiratory and upper digestive anatomy.

The esophagus is a muscular tube that joins your mouth to your stomach. Contractions in the muscles in the esophagus help food move down to the stomach. When these muscles tighten or contract abnormally, it is known as spasm.

When the muscles spasm, it may feel like food is stuck and won’t go down. It may cause a feeling of heartburn or a squeezing type of chest pain. The pain may spread to the neck, arm or back. If you try to swallow more food or liquid during a spasm, it may come back up within seconds.

Esophageal spasm is more common in people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (also called GERD or heartburn). Very hot or very cold foods or foods that are not chewed enough before swallowing may trigger a spasm. Symptoms can be constant or come and go.

Home care

Medicines

Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines to help reduce your symptoms. If you have an underlying condition, such as GERD, your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines to help manage it. 

Take all medicines as prescribed. Don't take any medicines without talking to your healthcare provider first.

Diet

  • Limit any foods that seem to cause spasm. This may include very hot or very cold foods.

  • Eat slowly and chew food well before swallowing. 

  • Don't drink alcohol or caffeine. Don't use tobacco. These can delay healing and worsen the problem.

  • Try eating smaller meals. Have small snacks in between.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider if any of the following occur:

  • Food that feels "stuck" in the esophagus for more than 30 minutes

  • Inability to swallow solid or liquids for more than 30 minutes

  • Symptoms that feel like esophageal spasm but occur with heavy sweating, dizziness, or shortness of breath

  • Change in the usual patterns of your symptoms of esophageal spasm (new pattern of spreading to the neck, back, shoulder or arm; pain that is more severe than usual)

  • Lifestyle changes don't provide relief

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