Esophageal Spasms

What are esophageal spasms?

Esophageal spasms are random and sometimes powerful contractions of the esophagus (the tube that carries food into the stomach.) Normally, the esophagus contracts in a coordinated way to move food along. When it spasms, food may become stuck in the esophagus. Children with esophageal spasms may have other conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux.

What are the symptoms?

When a child's esophagus spasms, he or she may have pain with swallowing, difficulty with swallowing, or a pain in the chest. Serious spasms can lead to an inability to swallow, regurgitation of food into the nose, or aspiration (accidental sucking of food particles into the lungs.) Certain foods or liquids may seem to be more likely to prompt spasms.

How is it treated?

Medications, breathing exercises, and diet changes may help spasms. At Children's, two other options are available for more serious cases:

  • Botox injections for infants. Babies' diet options are limited, and they are unable to learn breathing exercises. If spasms are serious, an option at Children's is botox injections, which help relax the esophagus so your baby can eat properly. Children's is one of the few hospitals in the nation offering this option.
  • Surgery. A myotomy is a procedure where muscle is cut. When muscle tissue in the esophagus is cut, spasms may be reduced. At Children's, this surgery can be done endoscopically (through a tube inserted in the mouth).

About surgery for esophageal spasms at Children's

The ENT surgery team at Children's provides next-generation care to neonatal infants, newborns, children, and adolescents from throughout the Upper Midwest. This multidisciplinary team provides some of the most cutting-edge, delicate treatments available, including newborn surgery and minimally invasive surgery. Otolaryngology surgery is performed at Children's - Minneapolis, Children's - St. Paul, and Children's West.

If you are a family member looking for a Children's ENT specialist, visit Find a Doctor.

If you are a health professional looking for a consultation or referral information, please call Children's Physician Referral at 1-866-755-2121 (toll-free).

Return to Children's ENT surgery home page.