Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2022 May 5;8(1):28. doi: 10.1038/s41572-022-00356-8.


Achalasia is a rare disorder of the oesophageal smooth muscle characterized by impaired relaxation of the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) and absent or spastic contractions in the oesophageal body. The key pathophysiological mechanism is loss of inhibitory nerve function that probably results from an autoimmune attack targeting oesophageal myenteric nerves through cell-mediated and, possibly, antibody-mediated mechanisms. Achalasia incidence and prevalence increase with age, but the disorder can affect all ages and both sexes. Cardinal symptoms consist of dysphagia, regurgitation, chest pain and weight loss. Several years can pass between symptom onset and an achalasia diagnosis. Evaluation starts with endoscopy to rule out structural causes, followed by high-resolution manometry and/or barium radiography. Functional lumen imaging probe can provide complementary evidence. Achalasia subtypes have management and prognostic implications. Although symptom questionnaires are not useful for diagnosis, the Eckardt score is a simple symptom scoring scale that helps to quantify symptom response to therapy. Oral pharmacotherapy is not particularly effective. Botulinum toxin injection into the LES can temporize symptoms and function as a bridge to definitive therapy. Pneumatic dilation, per-oral endoscopic myotomy and laparoscopic Heller myotomy can provide durable symptom benefit. End-stage achalasia with a dilated, non-functioning oesophagus may require oesophagectomy or enteral feeding into the stomach. Long-term complications can, rarely, include oesophageal cancer, but surveillance recommendations have not been established.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Endoscopy
  • Esophageal Achalasia* / diagnosis
  • Esophageal Achalasia* / therapy
  • Esophageal Sphincter, Lower / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Manometry / methods
  • Prognosis
  • Treatment Outcome