Cricopharyngeal spasm occurs when the cricopharyngeus muscle suffers from a spasm. This is brought about by the poor functioning of the top valve of the esophagus, and this causes problems when swallowing. The patient will have a feeling of having a lump in his or her throat, and this may cause a lot of anxiety, when the patient believes he or she has throat cancer. Although most patients find it easy to swallow food when they suffer from cricopharyngeal spasm, they claim to have problems when swallowing saliva. This is a condition that starts and ends on its own, but can last for months.
Symptoms of Cricopharyngeal Spasm
Patients suffering from cricopharyngeal spasm will have the feeling of having a lump in the throat. It may sometimes feel like a lot of phlegm or a small ball stuck in the throat. This sensation may go away after having a meal, but this relief is usually brief. Sometimes the sensation last all day, or may come and go. The symptoms are worse in the evening and during the night. They may come for many days, or come on certain days.
- There is a feeling of being strangled, choking or tightness of the throat.
- The throat will become swollen and inflamed.
- There is a constant urge to remove the lump from the throat by coughing or swallowing.
- The lump occurs in the cricoids cartilage level.
- There is difficulty when swallowing saliva. However, swallowing food and drinks is easy and brings about some relief, so one can take snacks and sip on some water to alleviate the feeling.
- There may be some pain in the throat, which may be periodic or constant.
- The anxiety, stress and emotional turbulence associated with cricopharyngeal spasm will only make the symptoms worse.
To understand the causes of cricopharyngeal spasm, you need to know about the functioning of the esophagus. This is the tube that runs from your throat to your stomach and takes food and fluids down. It has two valves, one at the top, and the other at the bottom. The top valve closes when you swallow food and fluids, to stop them from going to your lungs. The bottom valve closes and stops the contents of the stomach from flowing back up your throat and into the mouth. When there is a disruption of the top valve, then you will suffer from cricopharyngeal spasm. Anxiety and stress are the main causes of cricopharyngeal spasm, but some types of foods can also bring about this feeling.
The symptoms of cricopharyngeal spasm are most common when the valves do not get to relax properly. When they are tense and do not relax, food particles can come up the throat and also cause the feeling of having lumps in your throat. Here are some of the most common causes of the valve dysfunction that leads to cricopharyngeal spasm:
- A high level of anxiety in normal days.
- High levels of stress brought about by external factors.
- Emotional turbulence, when one is happy and then sad for no reason.
- The intake of certain foods will also cause cricopharyngeal spasm. Peanuts and pumpkin seeds are the most common causes of this. Other types of nuts will also trigger the condition. This is why people who are allergic to nuts are advised to keep off these foods.
Anxiety, emotional distress and stress will not always trigger cricopharyngeal spasm, so you should not be on the lookout whenever you go through trying times. However, once you develop cricopharyngeal spasm, and you have a lot of stress, anxiety or emotional stress, the symptoms will become worse.
Treatment of Cricopharyngeal Spasm
Cricopharyngeal spasm is self-limiting and will usually go away on its own. Treatment is given on an individual basis as each patient will have different triggers. Here are some of the treatments that you can get:
- For severe cases, the doctor will prescribe muscle relaxants such as benzodiazepines. The drugs help in relaxing the muscles of the valves and this brings about some relief. These drugs are addictive and should only be used when the spasms begin.
- Neck relaxation exercises are also great for providing relief from cricopharyngeal spasm. Seeing a physical therapist can help greatly in this aspect.
- When muscle relaxants are not effective, then anxiety or stress may be the trigger; the doctor will discontinue the use of the benzodiazepines and give you stress medication.
- Warm compresses or heating pads can be applied to the neck area so the muscles may relax, thereby bringing some relief.
The patient will also have to keep a diary that shows when the spasms occur and how long they last. This will prove useful when you visit the doctor for your next treatment session.