Achalasia is a condition in which the subject has difficulty in swallowing food; this happens because of two reasons, first the smooth esophageal muscle loses its muscle tone and second the esophageal sphincter opening into the stomach can no longer function properly, it does not relax and food cannot smoothly pass into the stomach. The condition is also characterized by regurgitation and sometimes pains in the chest.
Achalasia is a rare condition and less than 0.001% of the population contracts it in a year. Although the condition can be treated and its effects mitigated, there is no definite cure for it. Also, there is no clear or well-defined cause that can be singled out for the condition. It is largely considered to be an idiopathic condition; however, there is some evidence that heredity may play a role. Achalasia can also occur if the subject is suffering from cancer of the esophagus. This is not an age-specific condition and can affect young and old alike.
The esophagus consists of the upper esophageal sphincter, the body, and the lower esophageal sphincter. The two sphincters remain closed except when one has to swallow food. This is to prevent acid and chyme in the stomach from backing up into the esophagus. The upper sphincter opens when a person swallows food; the food is pushed down the body of the esophagus due to the peristaltic motion, and is pushed into the stomach via the open lower sphincter.
This process is hampered because of the inability of the esophageal body to undergo peristalsis and the subsequent opening of the lower esophageal valve cannot be effected.
Symptoms of the condition include difficulty in swallowing every time one eats. Sometimes this is accompanied by a pain in the chest because of the food accumulated in the esophagus. If the food is thrown up there is a risk that it might enter the lungs through the windpipe and cause infection. Since the symptoms are similar to what an individual suffering from GERD may experience, this cause has to first be eliminated. Video-esophagram and esophageal manometry are two diagnostic tests carried out to conform the existence of this condition.
Persistent achalasia can lead to swelling of the esophagus, loss of weight, and an increased chance of the subject cancer of the esophagus due to continuous irritation of the esophageal cells.
Achalasia progresses slowly and therefore early diagnosis is often difficult. All the same, chances of controlling the condition and benefiting from treatment are high when the disease is still in the early to mid stage.