What is achalasia?

Achalasia is a rare condition that makes it difficult to swallow food. It is caused by a problem with the nerves in the esophagus (the muscular tube where food travels from the mouth to the stomach). In children with achalasia, the muscles that squeeze food down the esophagus do not work properly because of damage to the nerves that control them. Without treatment, the condition can get worse over time. 

Most children with achalasia have a problem with the muscles in the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES opens and closes to allow food from the esophagus to pass into the stomach. In children with achalasia, the LES does not open properly, causing food to get stuck in the lower esophagus.

What causes achalasia?

Doctors are still learning what causes achalasia. In most cases, achalasia happens at random and is not hereditary (passed down in families).

What are the symptoms of achalasia?

The main symptom of achalasia in children is struggling to swallow food or feeling like there is food stuck in the throat. Achalasia can also cause the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting, especially after meals. This happens when too much food builds up in the esophagus.
  • Chest pain
  • Acid reflux (heart burn)
  • Weight loss
  • A cough that doesn’t go away