Esophageal Spasm: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Esophagus and stomach

The esophagus is the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. An esophageal spasm is an irregular, painful tightening of the muscles along the esophagus. Normally, the esophagus tightens in a coordinated manner to move food along and into the stomach. An esophageal spasm can prevent food from reaching the stomach, leaving it stuck in the esophagus.

The cause of esophageal spasm is not known, although it is more common in people who have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In some people, very hot or very cold foods can trigger a spasm.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • Treat other conditions that can make esophageal spasms worse, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • To treat GERD:
    • Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter medicine. For mild or occasional indigestion, it may help to take antacids, such as Tums or Gaviscon. Be careful when you take over-the-counter antacid medicines. Many of these medicines have aspirin in them. Read the label to make sure that you are not taking more than the recommended dose. Too much aspirin can be harmful.
    • Your doctor also may recommend over-the-counter acid reducers, such as famotidine (Pepcid AC) or ranitidine (Zantac 75 and Zantac Maximum Strength).
    • Eat several small meals instead of two or three large meals.
    • After you eat, wait 2 to 3 hours before you lie down.
    • Chocolate, mint, and alcohol can make GERD worse. They relax the valve between the esophagus and the stomach.
    • Spicy foods, foods that have a lot of acid (like tomatoes and oranges), and coffee can make GERD symptoms worse in some people. If your symptoms are worse after you eat a certain food, you may want to stop eating that food to see if your symptoms get better.
    • Do not smoke or chew tobacco.
    • If you have GERD symptoms at night, raise the head of your bed 15 to 20 centimetres by putting the frame on blocks or placing a foam wedge under the head of your mattress. (Adding extra pillows does not work.)
    • Do not wear tight clothing around your middle.
    • Lose weight if you need to. Losing just 2.5 to 4.5 kilograms can help.
  • Ask your doctor about relaxation and controlled breathing exercises. These may help reduce symptoms.
  • Avoid very hot or cold foods if they trigger esophageal spasms.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Light-headedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
  • You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
  • Your stools are maroon or very bloody.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or different belly pain.
  • Your stools are black and look like tar, or they have streaks of blood.
  • Your symptoms get worse.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your symptoms have not improved after 2 days.
  • Food seems to catch in your throat or chest.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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