What’s a throat spasm?

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Throat spasms, or esophageal spasms, temporarily interrupt the ability to swallow food or liquid, causing discomfort and pain. Treatment involves identifying and correcting underlying causes, such as GERD, and making dietary changes. Medications and surgery may also be used in severe cases. Diagnostic tests, including imaging, can confirm the diagnosis.

A throat spasm is a momentary physiological interruption of esophageal function. Seizure of the esophageal muscles temporarily cuts off the throat’s ability to take food or liquid through the digestive system causing temporary discomfort and pain. Treatment for this episodic condition usually focuses on correcting the underlying cause and may include dietary changes and medications. This condition rarely requires surgery.

Individuals experiencing a throat spasm may also develop a variety of characteristic symptoms depending on the presentation of the spasm. In most cases, a throat spasm, also known as an esophageal spasm, occurs as anginal pain that can mimic a heart attack in its presentation and intensity. Some people may also develop what is commonly described as a lump in the throat which affects their ability to swallow properly. Additional signs of a spasm may include heartburn and regurgitation.

There are several diagnostic tools that can be used to confirm a throat spasm diagnosis. After an initial exam and consultation with a doctor, he or she may order a variety of imaging tests, including a computed tomography (CT) scan and esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), to evaluate the condition and function of the esophagus and upper digestive. A barium swallow is also commonly performed to evaluate the efficiency of esophageal function. Imaging tests are especially helpful in confirming a diagnosis of esophageal spasm as spasmodic symptoms can sometimes be indicative of other conditions.

While it’s not known what actually triggers the muscle contractions associated with a throat spasm, there are a few factors that can contribute to its development. Individuals with digestive disorders, such as chronic heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), may be at greater risk of having more frequent spasmodic episodes. It has also been suggested that exposing the throat to extreme temperatures, such as by consuming very hot or cold substances, may contribute to the onset of the spasm.

Treatment for throat spasms generally involves implementing dietary changes initially. Over time, individuals who routinely experience esophageal spasms learn their triggers and are usually instructed to make a conscious effort to avoid them. Furthermore, it can also be suggested that symptomatic individuals regulate their eating habits, such as when, how much, and how quickly they eat.

If your throat spasms are triggered by the presence of an existing condition, such as GERD, treatment will usually be centered on that condition to relieve the spasmodic symptoms. Medications, such as calcium channel blockers and antidepressants, can be used to promote muscle relaxation and relieve discomfort. For individuals whose condition does not respond favorably to traditional treatment approaches, surgery may be required to impair the ability of the esophageal muscles to contract.

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