The oesophagus or gullet (食道 in Mandarin) is a muscular tube which carries food from the mouth into the stomach. Once food enters the oesophagus, it is then moved down through a series of muscular contractions called ‘peristalsis’.
When food passes from the lower end of the oesophagus into the stomach, it encounters a special muscular ring known as the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES). When the LES relaxes, the food will enter the stomach. The LES is important because it prevents back flow of food and acid from the stomach into the oesophagus.
However, when the LES fails to relax, the food in the oesophagus is unable to enter the stomach. Over time, the motor function of the oesophageal muscle weakens and the oesophagus enlarges. This inability of the oesophagus to relax known as Achalasia.
Achalasia is a relatively rare disease affecting about 1 in 100,000 people. It occurs in both adults and children, with men and women being equally affected. The exact cause of it is unknown.
Achalasia is a chronic disease. Most people suffering from this condition have difficulty in swallowing and make dietary adjustments such as eating in small portions or choosing a liquid diet. Some may become thin and malnourished and suffer a diminished quality of life. Nevertheless, this condition is treatable. Speak to your doctor for further details.