Achalasia is a rare condition that prevents people swallowing properly. About 1 in 100,000 people are affected with various stages of the disease (prevalence). It can have a severe effect on nutrition, and may prevent people from maintaining a healthy weight. It is often a condition that is not diagnosed readily, and can lead to considerable distress and loss of quality of life.
The condition affects both men and women, is most common between the ages of 30 and 60 years, but can also occur during childhood.
Achalasia occurs when the muscles controlling the propulsion of food down through the oesophagus and into the stomach do not work properly. The problem seems to be in the nerve cells controlling the muscles rather than the muscles themselves. The valve between the oesophagus and the stomach (the lower oesophageal sphincter) may be clamped shut, rather than relaxing to allow the food to pass into the stomach. This can cause food to remain in the oesophagus for long periods, and upward pressure leading to regurgitation. In the long term, loss of muscle tone can result in a distended oesophagus that collects a pool of undigested food. Sometimes the muscles can go into a painful spasm that can make patients feel as if they might be suffering from a heart attack.
Achalasia Action has been set up as a charity to provide better information and education about this condition, to support people with achalasia and to encourage research to improve the outcomes for the disease.