You take a bite, chew and swallow. What happens with your food after that is pretty much out of your control?
In order to move the food into your stomach, your esophagus contracts at regular intervals, pushing it downward. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.
Esophageal spasms occur when the esophagus either begins to contract irregularly or simply contracts with too much power.
One type of spasm causes the esophagus to contract irregularly, which will not allow food or liquid to pass down to the stomach, which can lead to choking.
Another type continues in a regular pattern, but the contractions are much stronger than necessary.
Aside from affecting your life and health by making eating, drinking and even sleeping difficult, both of these conditions can be extremely painful, and their underlying causes are not well-understood.
There are measures you can take to manage and even eradicate these uncomfortable and even dangerous spasms.
Esophageal spasms seem to be caused by the nerves that control swallowing functioning abnormally.
The esophageal muscles begin to contract strongly and sometimes without the natural rhythm that moves food downward toward the stomach.
This may make swallowing food and water difficult and can even cause food to get stuck in your throat.
In addition, the powerful contractions of the esophagus are very painful, and may last from a few minutes to several hours.
The pain caused by esophageal spasms may actually be mistaken for a heart attack, as it is generally felt as an extreme tightness and sharp pain in the chest and is sometimes accompanied by shortness of breath.
It is important that you take your symptoms seriously, visit your physician, and be sure you are not experiencing heart problems before addressing the condition.
You may also experience difficulty breathing when you are suffering from esophageal spasms.
This seems to originate from the connection seen between stress, chronic acid reflux or heartburn, and esophageal spasms.
In some cases, acid reflux is found to be a trigger for esophageal spasms. Stomach acid creeping into the esophagus causes the esophagus to narrow, which can lead to spasming.
If it reaches the vocal folds and airways, acid may cause them to swell, creating asthma-like symptoms, including wheezing and shortness of breath.
It is also possible that the airways begin to close off to keep acid from entering the lungs.
One of the triggers for both esophageal spasms and acid reflux is anxiety or panic attacks.
These on their own can cause difficulty breathing, and combined with the painful spasms and acid can effectively close off a large percentage of your throat.
Although you cannot directly control the contractions of the esophagus, relax as much as possible when you are struggling with spasms.
Refuse to panic and take steps you have learned will ease the spasm and reopen the passageways.
If this becomes a dangerous symptom for you, your physician should be able to prescribe medication to carry with you for emergencies.
Finger off the Trigger
Esophageal spasms are generally set off by specific triggers. They appear to be more frequent and severe when a person is suffering from stress or anxiety. Sometimes very hot or very cold food or liquid can cause them to begin.
Foods that cause acid reflux should be considered if you suspect this to be one of the causes of your esophageal spasms.
Even if you have not noticed a direct connection, continued struggle with acid reflux can cause permanent narrowing or scarring of the esophagus, which definitely compounds the problem.
Prevention is always better than pain when it comes to spasms, so begin at once to make a list of foods, situations, etc. that you know have caused esophageal spasms for you in the past. Keep alert to other possible triggers and do what you can to avoid them.
Relax to Reflex
Dealing with esophageal spasms long term is likely to call for some changes to your lifestyle. Once you have identified triggers, take care to deal with them appropriately.
Let foods or drinks with extreme temperatures cool or warm slightly before swallowing them. Take note of and avoid those that regularly cause problems for you.
Search for ways to control stress and avoid eating when you are anxious or uptight.
Some people have found that sucking peppermint lozenges helps to relax the muscles in their throat, relieving the pain of spasms. A small amount of peppermint oil mixed with water will have the same affect.
Eating quickly and not taking the time to chew your food well can lead to esophageal spasms. So slow down and get that first step of digestion done right.
Naturally, you will need to consult your doctor for help in identifying the probable cause of your esophageal spasms and deciding on a course of action to treat them.
Right in The Gut
Overall gut health may help you to address your esophageal difficulties at the root level, and should be one of the first lifestyle changes you make.
Esophageal spasms are often connected to other health problems, specifically digestive ones.
Learn what types of food irritate or inflame the digestive system and what types help it do its job without hang-ups.
Bread, spicy foods, and acidic foods like tomatoes and chocolate can cause esophageal problems.
Plenty of fiber, minerals and water, on the other hand should keep things running more smoothly.
Getting the right amount of nutrients—vitamins and minerals—is extremely important for your muscles, including those of your esophagus, to work correctly.
Make sure you are getting enough magnesium along with other vital nutrients.
Eating slowly and swallowing small amounts at a time will help you to avoid some of the triggers of esophageal spasms.
Again, remember that tension or anxiety can trigger an attack and if you can, put off eating until you are feeling more relaxed.
Apple cider vinegar aids digestion, cutting down on acid reflux issues. Simply add one tablespoon of raw vinegar with the mother to twelve ounces of water and sip it slowly once a day or when you are struggling with spasm attacks.
Shaking Spasms for Good
Hopefully this article has made it clear that the first step to dealing with esophageal spasms is consulting a medical professional.
Be sure of what you are dealing with and get as much of an idea as possible as to the root cause of the painful condition.
If you are over your optimal weight, it might be a good idea to lose a few pounds. This can help reduce esophageal spasms.
Be sure to eat plenty of nutrient and fiber rich food to give your digestive system a head start to healthy.
Some people have found that regularly taking Aloe Vera (as juice or in capsule form) reduces and even eradicates the problem of esophageal spasms. Caffeine and alcohol, on the other hand, are often triggers for attacks.
Esophageal spasms are also another reason to stop smoking. The nicotine and hot smoke irritate the esophagus and can trigger spasms as well as causing ongoing degeneration of the esophagus.
Avoid foods that give you acid reflux or heartburn. You may wish to start keeping a food journal so that you are able to track meals, snacks or situations that trigger acid reflux or esophageal spasms.
Other preventative measures include eating smaller more frequent meals in place of large ones and resisting the urge to binge on junk food.
Try not to eat anything for three or four hours before lying down to sleep. This can help prevent acid reflux and the resulting damage to your esophagus and spasms.
If this nighttime acid refluxes a continuing problem for you, you may try raising the head of your bed four to eight inches.
Be aware that placing your head on a pile of pillows does not have the same affect and can actually compound the problem as it forces your body into an unnatural position.
Avoid wearing tight belts or clothing that puts pressure on the muscles and organs connected to digestion and breathing.
When you are suffering from an esophageal spasm, don’t panic. Slow up and try taking small sips of water.
If you often suffer attacks, you may want to carry a small bottle of water with you for this purpose.
With practiced awareness and careful lifestyle choices, you should be able to control and manage your esophageal spasms and cut some of the pain out of your life.
Medications and even surgeries are available to relieve extreme cases and should be something you discuss with your physician.
This article is intended to help educate you as to the condition and has hopefully answered a few questions for you.
Again, be aware that painful esophageal spasms are simply a symptom. Along with managing it, you will be doing your best to address the root cause, whether it is unhealthy lifestyle or eating habits, digestive problems, etc.