What Is Achalasia?

Achalasia is a disorder that makes it difficult for patients to swallow solids or liquids due to nerve damage of the esophagus, the muscular tube connecting the mouth to the stomach. The nerves that control the sphincter (the muscular valve that connects the esophagus to the stomach) don't let the muscles relax, preventing the esophagus from pushing food and liquid into the stomach.

Achalasia can cause discomfort, weight loss and even malnutrition, and it can lead to other complications, including:

  • Aspiration pneumonia: Backed-up food in your esophagus and throat is inhaled into your lungs.
  • Esophageal cancer: Cancer of the esophagus is related to continual irritation of the esophageal lining.
  • Esophageal perforation: A hole in the esophagus can be caused by backed-up food that stretches and weakens the muscle wall.

More than 3,000 people are diagnosed with esophageal achalasia each year. The Northwestern Medicine Digestive Health Center is one of the leading regional and national referral centers for achalasia and other swallowing disorders.