Cricopharyngeal Spasm

Is A Cricopharyngeal Spasm A Cause For Concern?


What is a cricopharyngeal spasm? Someone who experiences a cricopharyngeal spasm likely doesn’t know what is wrong except for the horrifying thought that the symptoms might be indicative of the presence of a tumor in the throat. The truth is, if you do have a real lump in your throat, you won’t feel it until it becomes quite large. One of the issues with throat cancer is that a tumor has to become quite large before it is even noticeable, at which time treatment may become a problem.

It Comes, And It Goes Away

A cricopharyngeal spasm is one of those conditions that suddenly appears, lingers for a while, perhaps even several months, and then goes away. The true cause is not known, and consequently there is no known cure. The condition cannot really be considered incurable since it goes away on its own. There does not appear to be any record of any person having these spasms as a permanent condition.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Cricopharyngeal Spasm, And How Can The Condition Be Treated?

The culprit is a muscle in our throat, in our esophagus to be exact. The muscle is the cricopharyngeus muscle, hence the name of the disorder associated with it. This muscle controls two valves in the esophagus. The muscle is normally relaxed and the valves allow food that is being swallowed to pass through to the stomach. Once the food passes through, the valves close to keep the food from being regurgitated back up from the stomach and into the upper throat. After a brief time, the muscle relaxes again and the next food coming down the esophagus will be allowed to pass through.

If the contraction becomes somewhat permanent, akin to a cramping of a muscle, the valves will remain closed. When this happens, swallowing can become difficult, though not impossible. Food is heavy enough to force the valves open, but it may be impossible to swallow saliva. The feeling one gets is that of having a lump in the throat. This lump in the throat feeling isn’t a constant feeling. It may vary during the day. The feeling tends to be more pronounced as the day progresses. Sometimes, the symptoms become severe enough that a person feels that he or she is being strangled. There is no mention in medical journals of anyone ever having actually been strangled by a cricopharyngeal spasm. Still, such a spasm can at times be very uncomfortable, not to mention a bit scary.

Managing The Symptoms

We all feel similar symptoms at times when we get “choked up” about something, or feel a tightness in our throat when we find ourselves in a stressful situation. Wearing a necktie that has been tied too tight also gives a hint as to what the spasm can feel like. The fact is, while the exact cause of a cricopharyngeal spasm remains unknown, stress is considered as being a prime contributor.

In describing the symptoms, it might appear that eating would be an unpleasant experience, eating actually has a soothing effect. During a meal, the symptoms may go away entirely, but will normally reappear a bit later. Eating, therefore, could be considered a means of managing the symptoms, but continuous eating brings with it its own problems.

There are a few things, besides eating, that one who suffers from these spasms can do until the disorder disappears:

• It’s important to avoid undue stress as much as possible, as stress tends to make the symptoms appear and make them worse when they are already present.

• Warm fluids can be helpful in keeping the severity of the symptoms minimal. Instead of trying to eat something constantly, try drinking several cups of warm tea during the day. It will have the same effect.

• Muscle relaxants can help, but these should only be tried on the advice of a physician.

One of the reasons that it can be difficult to diagnose and treat some problems in the throat is that there is a general absence of nerves on the inside lining of the throat. Consequently, a problem often isn’t detected until it becomes somewhat severe. This is really a blessing in disguise. If we had many nerve endings in our throat, we would feel every little morsel of food that we ingested, which might not always be a pleasant experience.

The Good News

In summary, while cricopharyngeal spasms can cause a person significant discomfort at times, it at least has several positive facts associated with it:

1. It is not throat cancer, nor is it a precursor to throat cancer.

2. The symptoms tend to come and go rather than being constant, and they can be managed to some extent.

3. Meals can provide more than the usual amount of pleasure, as eating tends to lessen the symptoms, at least temporarily.

4. Finally, the condition will eventually disappear. You just don’t know when.