Esophageal Motility Disorders

An esophageal motility disorder (EMD) is a disorder of the esophagus that may cause swallowing difficulties, spasms of pain or regurgitation of food. There are many types of EMDs, including:

  • Spastic EMD: This motility disorder may encompass several types, including:
    • Diffuse esophageal spasm
    • Nutcracker esophagus
    • Hypertensive lower esophageal sphincter nonspecific EMD
  • Achalasia: Achalasia is a rare disorder of the esophagus that affects the ability of the esophagus to move food toward the stomach. It may occur at any age, but is typically more common in middle-aged and older persons. It may be inherited, as well.
  • Esophageal scleroderma: As in most autoimmune disorders, the body attacks itself, causing the scarring and thickening of the esophagus tissues. This causes abnormal functioning of the smooth muscle of the esophagus, inhibiting its ability to move food toward the stomach.


Diagnosis of EMD may require a test to measure the pressure within the esophagus as you swallow or the use of an endoscope (thin tube with a camera at the end of it) to examine the lining of your esophagus. Your physician will consult with you about determining the type of EMD you may have and how best to treat it.


Treatments of an EMD will depend on the specific nature of the disorder. For many EMDs, there are medications and surgical treatments available. Your physician will discuss the best options for you, as well as any potential complications that may arise from treatment.

Meet the Teams

The Northwestern Medicine Thoracic Surgery teams offer the latest surgical procedures for benign and malignant diseases of the chest, including the esophagus.



The Thoracic Surgery Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital offers the latest surgical procedures for benign and malignant diseases of the chest, including the tracheobronchial tree (airways), lungs, pleura, esophagus, diaphragm, chest wall and mediastinum. Our program comprises a highly specialized team that provides integrated care and practices medicine centered on each patient’s unique circumstances, including:

  • Comprehensive and seamlessly coordinated care across multiple physician disciplines, with team members from:
    • Medical oncology
    • Radiation oncology
    • Interventional pulmonology
    • Thoracic pathology
    • Thoracic radiology
  • A highly specialized team of nurses, anesthesiologists and support personnel
  • Advanced diagnostic technologies
  • Minimally invasive surgical techniques
  • Convenient and customized patient and family services
  • Significant expertise in minimally invasive surgical techniques
  • Nationally recognized clinical experts
  • Demonstrated quality outcomes
  • Access to novel therapies and clinical trials
  • Commitment to collaboration with referring physicians
  • Collaboration with pharmaceutical, device and biotechnology companies in clinical trials to improve patient care and advance thoracic science