Achalasia medical therapy

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Twinkle Singh, M.B.B.S. [2], Ahmed Younes M.B.B.CH [3]

Overview

Botulinum toxin, calcium channel blockers and nitrates are the most commonly used medical therapies for achalasia. However, they are not very effective and used only when pneumatic dilation and surgical procedures cannot be performed in high risk patients.

Medical Therapy

Botulinum Toxin

Intra-sphincteric injection of botulinum toxin (or botox), to paralyze the lower esophageal sphincter and prevent spasms. As in the case of botox injected for cosmetic reasons, the effect is only temporary, and symptoms return quickly in most patients. First month response rates are > 75% but they need repeat injections every 6-24 months.[1] Botox injections cause scarring in the sphincter which may increase the difficulty of later Heller myotomy.

Indications

  • For patients who cannot risk surgery
  • As an adjunct to myotomy to treat residual LES spasms

Mechanism of Action

Adverse Effects

  • Botox is very well tolerated, and only ~ 5% develop symptomatic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • 16-25% rate of developing chest pain
  • Mediastinitis (rare)
  • Allergic reaction to egg protein (rare)
  • Higher rate of subsequent surgical complications
  • 50% relapse rate
  • Requirement for repeat injections (Pasricha et.al. showed that 90% of patients experienced immediate relief, however only 65% have relief at 6 months, and only 42% are symptom free at one year)[2][1][3]


Oral Pharmacotherapy

Drugs that reduce LES pressure may be useful, especially as a way to buy time while waiting for surgical treatment. Calcium channel blockers such as nifedipine, and long acting nitrates such as isosorbide dinitrate and nitroglycerin are the two most commonly used groups of medications.

Indications

  • Drugs are the least effective mode of treatment. They are used temporarily before the more effective mode of treatment such as pneumatic dilation and myotomy can be used.
  • High risk patients who cannot undergo surgical procedures.
  • Patients who refuse pneumatic dilation or myotomy.
  • Patients in whom repeated injections of botulinum toxin fail to relieve symptoms.

Mechanism of action

Adverse Effects

  • Headache
  • Hypotension
  • Pedal Edema
  • Usually only provide minimal relief.
  • As the pills themselves can get stuck in the esophagus, this can complicate the disease.

Other uncommon drugs which can be used in achalasia management: Sildenafil, Theophyllin, Atropine, Dicyclomine, Cimetropium Bromide, Terbutaline[1][3]

Pharmacotherapy Dose Time to maximum effect Duration of effect % of symptomatic improvement'
Nifedipine 10-30 mg, sublingually
30-45 min before meals
20-45 min 30-120 min 0-75 %
Isosorbide dinitrate 5 mg, sublingually
10-15 min prior to meals
3-27 min 30-90 min 53-87 %
Botulinum toxin 100 units of toxin placed by sclero-needle in at least 4 quadrants just above the squamocolumnar junction

Contraindicated medications

Achalasia is considered an absolute contraindication to the use of the following medications:

ACG Clinical Guideline: Diagnosis and Management of Achalasia[1]

Recommendations for the Management of Achalasia

"1. Pharmacologic therapy for achalasia is recommended for patients who are unwilling or cannot undergo definitive treatment with either PD or surgical myotomy and have failed botulinum toxin therapy (strong recommendation, low-quality evidence)."

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Vaezi MF, Pandolfino JE, Vela MF (2013). "ACG clinical guideline: diagnosis and management of achalasia". Am J Gastroenterol. 108 (8): 1238–49, quiz 1250. doi:10.1038/ajg.2013.196. PMID 23877351.
  2. Zhao X, Pasricha PJ (2003). "Botulinum toxin for spastic GI disorders: a systematic review". Gastrointest Endosc. 57 (2): 219–35. doi:10.1067/mge.2003.98. PMID 12556788.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Boeckxstaens GE, Zaninotto G, Richter JE (2014). "Achalasia". Lancet. 383 (9911): 83–93. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60651-0. PMID 23871090.



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