A cricopharyngeal spasm is a type of muscle spasm that occurs in the throat. Also known as the upper oesophageal sphincter (UES), the cricopharyngeal muscle is located at the top part of the oesophagus. The oesophagus, which is part of the digestive system, helps to digest food and prevent acids from creeping up from the stomach.
It is normal for your cricopharyngeal muscle to contract as it helps the oesophagus moderate food and liquid intake. When this muscle contracts too much, a spasm occurs, and this is known as a hypercontraction state. The spasms can make your throat feel uncomfortable, but you can still swallow drinks and food.
Symptoms of Cricopharyngeal Spasm
Although you can still eat and drink with cricopharyngeal spasm, the discomfort tends to be highest in-between meals and beverages.
The symptoms include:
- Chocking sensations
- Feeling like something is tightening around the throat
- Sensation of a large object stuck in the throat
- A lump that you can’t spit or swallow
UES symptoms usually disappear when you’re eating food or liquids because the related muscles relax so as to help you eat and drink. But the symptoms tend to get worse throughout the day.
Causes of Cricopharyngeal Spasm
Cricopharyngeal spasms occur within the cricoid cartilage in the throat which is located right at the bottom of the oesophagus and at the bottom of the pharynx. The UES is responsible for preventing anything like air, from reaching the oesophagus in between meals and drinks. Because of this, the UES is constantly contracting to prevent stomach acids and air flow from reaching the oesophagus.
Sometimes this protective measure can get off balance, and the UES can contract more than usual. This can result in notable spasms.
Treatment of Cricopharyngeal Spasm
In some cases, cricopharyngeal spasm can be treated by temporarily paralyzing the UES with an injection of botulinum toxin (Botox). The injections however need to be repeated every 3-6 months.
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