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Esophageal Spasm - Topic Overview

How is it treated?

Treatment for esophageal spasm includes treating other conditions that may make esophageal spasms worse, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is usually treated with changes to diet and lifestyle and medicines to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach.

Here are some things to try:

  • Change your eating habits.
    • It’s best to eat several small meals instead of two or three large meals.
    • After you eat, wait 2 to 3 hours before you lie down. Late-night snacks aren't a good idea.
    • Chocolate, mint, and alcohol can make GERD worse. They relax the valve between the esophagus and the stomach.
    • Spicy foods, foods that have a lot of acid (like tomatoes and oranges), and coffee can make GERD symptoms worse in some people. If your symptoms are worse after you eat a certain food, you may want to stop eating that food to see if your symptoms get better.
  • Do not smoke or use smokeless tobacco.
  • If you have GERD symptoms at night, raise the head of your bed 6 in. (15 cm) to 8 in. (20 cm) by putting the frame on blocks or placing a foam wedge under the head of your mattress. (Adding extra pillows does not work.)
  • Do not wear tight clothing around your middle.
  • Lose weight if you need to. Losing just 5 to 10 pounds can help.

If lifestyle changes alone aren't enough to help GERD, your doctor may suggest you try medicines that reduce stomach acid. Over-the-counter medicines include:

Spasms themselves may be treated directly with medicines such as nitrates and calcium channel blockers to relax the muscles of the esophagus. But these medicines are not always effective. Your doctor may also recommend certain types of antidepressant medicines. Even though you may not be depressed, these medicines can help with the pain.

Treating anxiety with relaxation and controlled breathing exercises may also help to reduce symptoms.

In rare cases, surgery is used to treat esophageal spasm. The surgeon cuts the muscles along the lower esophagus. This procedure is usually done only in serious cases that do not respond to other therapies.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 06, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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