A spasm is a sudden, involuntary contraction of a muscle. Esophageal spasms present as non-cardiac recurring chest pain and may be very problematic. Many patients who present to hospital, will have cardiac chest pain ruled out first, then most of the time investigations are stopped and they will be discharged with no follow-up plan .
There is no laboratory marker that can aid in the diagnosis of these conditions. Since these patients have dysphagia an endoscopy will be required to rule out structural problems. If the symptoms are suggestive of gastroesophageal reflux, empirical treatment may be started. If there is no relief then, the below tests should be done .
The modality of choice is barium swallow and esophageal manometry. A barium swallow will show esophageal spasm as of multiple contractions that appear at the same time causing a corkscrew like appearance. Manometry is the best modality to diagnose esophageal spasm. The variants have characteristic findings. Nutcracker esophagus is characterized by coordinated contractions in the smooth muscle of the esophagus with an excessive amplitude and/or duration. Diffuse esophageal spasm, will have is ≥20 percent premature contractions on esophageal pressure topography.
Mortality is rare but the morbidity is significant and will affect the quality of life with possible psychological problems developing, especially if the diagnosis is not made. Patients are frequent visitors to the emergency room and often get discharged once cardiac cases are ruled out, leaving them confused with little relief from their pain. These patients are at increased risk of achalasia .
The true etiology of the condition and its variants is unknown. There have been hypothesis of nerve disorders and gastroesophageal reflux being a cause. The cause of hypertensive spasms is also unknown, but neuronal disorders appear to be there.
There is very little data outside the United States of America, where the incidence is believed to be 1 case in every 100,000 population year. Mortality is rare, but the quality of life may be significantly reduced if the condition is not diagnosed or treated well. It is more common in Caucasians and women . Some of these esophageal motility disorders have been associated with psychiatric conditions.
The pathophysiology of the condition and its variants is not completely understood, but it is thought that there is a problem with the innervation of the muscles. Esophageal spasm may occur due to a deficiency of nitric oxide synthesis and degradation. This hypothesis was formed because these spams respond to glycerine trinitrate.
The hypertensive variants are thought to be caused by due to overactivity of excitatory innervation or smooth muscle response to excitatory nerves   .
The true etiology and pathophysiology are not known and prevention is difficult to implement. The spasms may be triggered by certain food and drinks, these can be avoided to reduce the attacks. Use of pureed food has been shown to reduce the frequency of the spasms.
Esophageal spasms can be classified into two different types, diffuse esophageal spasm, with the second form having hypertensive peristalsis.