Diseases & Conditions
At Boston Medical Center, our specialists will treat your esophageal conditions, such as motility disorders, with the compassion and expertise for which we are known.
What are Motility Disorders?
When you swallow, food travels down the esophagus by a series of muscular contractions called peristalsis. At the bottom of the esophagus is a muscular valve (the lower esophageal sphincter or LES) that opens to allow food to enter the stomach and then closes to prevent regurgitation of stomach contents back into the esophagus. Motility disorders occur when this process is disrupted. They are more common in men and women older than age 50.
Motility disorders include:
- Achalasia. This is a failure of peristalsis to push food along the esophagus and a failure of the lower esophageal sphincter to relax to allow food to enter the stomach. Most patients complain of difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), regurgitation and weight loss.
- Diffuse esophageal spasm. In this disorder, the esophagus muscles can contract, but are not coordinated to push food along the esophagus. Patients may complain of pain or difficulty swallowing.
- Nutcracker esophagus. In this disorder, the esophagus muscles contract but at a much higher pressure than normal. The main symptom with nutcracker esophagus is chest pain.
- Nonspecific esophageal motility disorders. This refers to a mixture of motility disorders that don't easily fit a defined pattern such as those described above.
- Secondary esophageal motility disorders. These occur as a result of another condition such as diabetes, alcohol consumption, or scleroderma. Treatment will usually be aimed at the disease causing the motility disorder, but sometimes specific treatment including surgery may be required to help with swallowing difficulties.
What are the Symptoms of Motility Disorders?
Symptoms vary, and may include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chest pain
- Unexplained weight loss
What are the Causes?
The causes of motility disorders are not completely understood, but researchers think infections and family history play a role.