Achalasia is a rare disease. So rare in fact, that you may never have heard of it. But for people who suffer from the condition, it’s very real and often extremely painful. And it actually has a fair amount of relevance for people with fibromyalgia.
That’s because people with fibromyalgia often deal with persistent heartburn. And achalasia can mimic many of the symptoms of that condition. So it’s possible that if you have fibromyalgia and you’re dealing with frequent chest pains, you may actually have achalasia. And learning to recognize the signs can help prevent misdiagnoses and help you get effective treatment.
So, what is Achalasia? Why is it a concern for people with fibromyalgia? And what can you do to treat it?
What Is Achalasia?
Achalasia is a condition where the muscles in the lower esophagus lose the ability to relax and contract. That ability of the esophagus to relax and contract is important in the process of digestion. When you swallow food, the esophagus expands to allow it to pass into the stomach. When you have achalasia, this normal process stops functioning correctly. And food can essentially get stuck in the esophagus. Obviously, this is often quite painful.
We don’t fully understand what causes the condition, but it probably has something to do with damage to the nerves that control the muscles in the esophagus.
The condition leads to a number of uncomfortable symptoms. There’s the obvious difficulty swallowing food or liquids. And when food gets trapped in the esophagus, your body may naturally regurgitate it. If this regurgitation occurs when you are lying down, the food may actually travel into the lungs, which can be dangerous.
And achalasia can also lead to sharp chest pains with no clear cause. This pain is a little different from heartburn, but people with the condition can have heartburn as well. That fact can sometimes make it difficult to diagnose the condition.
Achalasia is quite rare, but heartburn is very common. So, if you’re experiencing pain in the chest, a doctor will likely assume that you’re suffering from acid reflux. Luckily, there are a few tests that can determine if you have Achalasia. The doctor can take X-rays of the esophagus to look for contractions, or use an endoscopy tube to visually examine the esophagus.
People with fibromyalgia also have a higher risk of heartburn, which means that you may experience symptoms similar to achalasia.
Achalasia And Fibromyalgia
Having fibromyalgia makes you more likely to develop heartburn. The most likely explanation for this link is that having fibromyalgia makes it difficult to exercise. A condition that causes chronic fatigue and constant pain obviously makes getting regular cardio a challenge.
As a result, people with fibromyalgia often struggle with obesity. Those extra pounds put pressure on the stomach and esophagus, which can lead to acid reflux. Acid reflux causes chronic chest pain, which can sometimes be quite sharp. And these symptoms can be difficult to distinguish from achalasia.
If you’re experiencing chest pain, it’s always a good idea to see a doctor. It may even be a symptom of a more serious condition like heart problems.
What Are Your Treatment Options?
Your treatment will depend on which condition you have. If you have achalasia, there are a few options. Your doctor may perform a procedure where a balloon is inserted into the esophagus and inflated, forcing it to open. This procedure may need to be repeated several times if the condition reoccurs.
In addition, the doctor can inject muscle relaxants directly into the esophagus. This procedure may also need to be repeated regularly for best results.
There are also more permanent surgical procedures. The most common procedure is called a Heller myotomy and involves cutting away a portion of the esophagus, expanding the space for food to pass through. But this procedure can increase your risk of developing acid reflux. So, it may need to be combined with a procedure where a portion of the stomach is wrapped around the lower part of the esophagus, tightening the muscles to prevent reflux.
If you’re just suffering from acid reflux, your best bet is to lose weight. Losing just a few pounds can significantly improve your symptoms. But there are also a number of effective medications that reduce the amount of stomach acid you produce. Your doctor will be able to advise you on the best treatment program for you.
So, do you suffer from heartburn? Do you think it’s related to your fibromyalgia? Have you ever had achalasia? What did you do to treat it? Let us know in the comments.