Esophageal Spasm Medication

  • Author: Ahmad Malas, MD; Chief Editor: BS Anand, MD  more...
Updated: Jun 24, 2015

Medication Summary

Medical therapy is the first line of treatment for esophageal spasm. Because the etiology is unknown, all medical therapies are directed at symptoms, not etiology. Proton pump inhibitors may be useful for associated gastroesophageal reflux disease. Calcium channel blockers and nitrates may decrease pain associated with esophageal spasms. Botulinum toxin decreases acetylcholine available at nerve endings. Imipramine improves pain by an unknown mechanism of action.


Calcium channel blockers

Class Summary

Calcium channel blockers reduce the amplitude of contractions. In nutcracker esophagus, calcium channel blockers effectively reduce the amplitude of contractions, but chest pain often is not reduced. Whether calcium channel blockers decrease the force of contraction of muscle or decrease the underlying stimulus is unknown.

Diltiazem (Cardizem, Cartia XT, Dilacor XR, Diltzac, Tiazac, Diltia XT)


Diltiazem is FDA approved for hypertension, vasospastic angina, and chronic stable angina. It decreases calcium ion flux across cell membranes in smooth muscle, thereby relaxing vascular smooth muscle.



Class Summary

Like calcium channel blockers, nitrates may decrease the pain associated with esophageal spasm. The mechanism of action is unknown, but it may be related to decreasing vasospasm in the brainstem, similar to calcium channel blockers, or it may be a direct effect on the myocytes.

Isosorbide dinitrate (Dilatate SR, Isordil, Isoditrate ER)


The approved indication is for angina pectoris. Isosorbide dinitrate relaxes vascular smooth muscle by stimulating intracellular cyclic GMP. By decreasing left ventricular pressure and dilating arteries, it reduces cardiac oxygen demand.


Tricyclic antidepressants

Class Summary

These agents, specifically imipramine, have been shown to decrease chest pain of no apparent cause on angiography. Studies specifically evaluating nutcracker esophagus are not yet available. The mechanism of action of imipramine is not known.

Imipramine (Tofranil, Tofranil PM)


Imipramine decreases pain in patients with chest pain of no apparent cause on angiography, which may be esophageal spasm. This is not an FDA-approved use. The mechanism of action is not known. The primary use of imipramine is in the treatment of depression.


Toxins (botulinum toxin)

Class Summary

This class binds receptors in nerve endings, decreasing the release of acetylcholine. Injecting botulinum toxin endoscopically above the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) improves symptoms of patients with esophageal spasms. However, the effect is temporary and the response decreases with repeated injections.

Botulinum toxin (BOTOX®)


Botulinum toxin treats excessive abnormal contractions associated with blepharospasm. It binds to receptor sites on motor nerve terminals and inhibits the release of acetylcholine, which, in turn, inhibits the transmission of impulses in neuromuscular tissue.


Phosphodiesterase (type 5) Enzyme Inhibitor

Class Summary

These agents can relax smooth muscle.

Sildenafil (Revation, Viagra)


Sildenafil acts by inhibiting cGMP-specific phosphodiesterase type 5, an enzyme that promotes degradation of cGMP, thereby enhancing the effects of nitric oxide-activated increases in cGMP, resulting in smooth muscle relaxation.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Ahmad Malas, MD Fellow, Department of Gastroenterology, Providence Hospital and Medical Centers

Ahmad Malas, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American Gastroenterological Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Janice M Fields, MD, FACG, FACP Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine; Consulting Staff, Department of Internal Medicine, Section of Gastroenterology, Providence Hospital, St John Macomb-Oakland Hosptial

Janice M Fields, MD, FACG, FACP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine, American Gastroenterological Association, American Medical Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, National Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Chief Editor

BS Anand, MD Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Baylor College of Medicine

BS Anand, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, American College of Gastroenterology, American Gastroenterological Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

John Gunn Lee, MD Director of Pancreaticobiliary Service, Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, University of California at Irvine School of Medicine

John Gunn Lee, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, American Gastroenterological Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Simmy Bank, MD Chair, Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Long Island Jewish Hospital, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Alan BR Thomson, MD Professor of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, University of Alberta, Canada

Alan BR Thomson, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alberta Medical Association, American College of Gastroenterology, American Gastroenterological Association, Canadian Association of Gastroenterology, Canadian Medical Association, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Barium swallow demonstrates diffuse uncoordinated contractions of the esophagus in a patient with diffuse esophageal spasm.
This is normal esophageal manometry tracing with normal amplitude of the contractions. The contractions are coordinated because the contractions in the proximal esophagus (top of image) occur before the contractions further distal in the esophagus.
Esophageal manometry tracing demonstrates diffuse esophageal spasm. Note the multiple uncoordinated contractions in the third tracing from the distal esophagus.
Esophageal manometry tracing demonstrates nutcracker esophagus. Note the excessive amplitude of the contractions.
High-resolution manometric display of a normal esophageal swallow using esophageal pressure topography. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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