Achalasia differential diagnosis

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


Achalasia must be differentiated from other causes of dysphagia, odynophagia and food regurgitation such as GERD, esophageal adenocarcinoma, esophageal stricture, esophageal webs, motor disorders such as myasthenia gravis, stroke, Zenker's diverticulum, diffuse esophageal spasm, systemic sclerosis and Plummer Vinson syndrome.

Differentiating Achlasia from other Disease

Achalasia must be differentiated from other causes of dysphagia, odynophagia and food regurgitation such as GERD, esophageal adenocarcinoma and esophageal stricture.

Disease Signs and Symptoms Barium esophagogram Endoscopy Other imaging and laboratory findings Gold Standard
Onset Dysphagia Weight loss Heartburn Other findings Mental status
Solids Liquids Type
Plummer-Vinson syndrome
  • Gradual
+ - Non progressive +/- - Normal
Barium esophagogram (Source: Case courtesy of Dr Hani Salam, <a href=""></a>. From the case <a href="">rID: 14029</a>)

Triad of

Esophageal stricture
  • Gradual
  • Sudden onset
+ - Progressive +/- +/- Normal
  • Sacculations
  • Fixed transverse folds
  • Esophageal intramural pseudodiverticula   
Case courtesy of Dr Ahmed Abd Rabou,, rID: 23008
Diffuse esophageal spasm
  • Sudden
+ + Non progressive + + Normal
  • Nonperistaltic and nonpropulsive contractions
  • Corkscrew or rosary bead esophagus
Barium swallow appearance of DES
Source:By Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 (
  • Inconclusive
  • Gradual
+ + Non progressive +/- - Normal
  • "Bird's beak" or "rat tail" appearance
  • Dilated esophageal body
  • Air fluid level (absent peristalsis)
  • Absence of an intragastric air bubble
Case courtesy of Dr Mario Umana,, rID: 38071
  • Residual pressure of LES > 10 mmHg
  • Incomplete relaxation of the LES
  • Increased resting tone of LES
  • Aperistalsis
Systemic sclerosis
  • Gradual
+ + Progressive +/- + Normal
  • Dysmotility
  • Peptic stricture (advanced cases)
Positive serology for
Zenker's diverticulum
  • Gradual
+ - +/- - Normal">"Zenker diverticulum | Radiology Case |".</ref>
  • Exclude the presence of SCC
  • CT & MRI shows out-pouching over the posterior esophagus in the Killian's triangle
Esophageal carcinoma
  • Gradual
+ + Progressive + +/- Normal
Case courtesy of Dr Bruno Di Muzio,, rID: 4232f
  • CT and PET scan is an optional test for staging of the disease

(Cerebral hemorrhage)

  • Sudden
+ + Progressive + +/- Impaired
Motor disorders

(Myasthenia gravis)

  • Gradual
+ + Progressive +/- Normal
  • Stasis in pharynx and pooling in pharyngeal recesses
  • Anti–acetylcholine receptor antibody test
  • Gradual
  • Sudden onset
+ - Progressive +/- + Normal
Esophageal web
  • Gradual
+ +/- Progressive - +/- Normal
  • Smooth membrane not encircling the whole lumen

Manifestations Diagnostic tools
  • Dysphagia for solids and liquids is the most common feature, being seen in 91 % and 85% of patients respectively[2]
  • Regurgitation of undigested food occurs in 76-91% of patients[2]
  • Cough mainly when lying down in 30%[2]
Barium swallow showing bird's beak appearance - By Farnoosh Farrokhi, Michael F. Vaezi. - Idiopathic (primary) achalasia. Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases 2007, 2:38(, CC BY 2.0,
Barret's esophagus - By Samir धर्म - taken from patient with permission to place in public domain, Copyrighted free use,
Esophageal carcinoma
  • Dysphagia
  • Odynophagia- fluids and soft foods are usually tolerated, while hard or bulky substances (such as bread or meat) cause much more difficulty[4]
  • Weight loss
  • Pain, often of a burning nature, may be severe and worsened by swallowing, and can be spasmodic in character
  • Nausea and vomiting[4]
  • Upper GI endoscopy and esophageal biopsy the gold standard for the diagnosis of esophageal
Corckscrew esophagus
  • Barium swallow shows the characteristic corckscrew appearance of the esophagus.
Corckscrew esophagus - Case courtesy of Radswiki,, rID: 11680
Esophageal stricture
Peptic stricture - By Samir धर्म - From, Public Domain,
Plummer-Vinson syndrome Common symptoms of Plummer-Vinson syndrome include[9][10][11]
  • Difficulty swallowing (more for solids)
  • Weakness
  • Pain
  • Burning sensation in mouth
  • Dry tongue
  • Painful cracks in the angles of a dry mouth
  • Pale color of the skin

Less cmmon symptoms

  • Cold intolerance
  • Reduced resistance to infection
  • Altered behavior
  • Craving for for unusual items (such as ice or cold vegetables)
Plummer-Vinson syndrome (Source: Case courtesy of Dr Hani Salam, <a href=""></a>. From the case <a href="">rID: 14029</a>)


  1. Ferri, Fred (2015). Ferri's clinical advisor 2015 : 5 books in 1. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier/Mosby. ISBN 978-0323083751.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Boeckxstaens GE, Zaninotto G, Richter JE (2013). "Achalasia". Lancet. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60651-0. PMID 23871090.
  3. Badillo R, Francis D (2014). "Diagnosis and treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease". World J Gastrointest Pharmacol Ther. 5 (3): 105–12. doi:10.4292/wjgpt.v5.i3.105. PMC 4133436. PMID 25133039.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Napier KJ, Scheerer M, Misra S (2014). "Esophageal cancer: A Review of epidemiology, pathogenesis, staging workup and treatment modalities". World J Gastrointest Oncol. 6 (5): 112–20. doi:10.4251/wjgo.v6.i5.112. PMC 4021327. PMID 24834141.
  5. Matsuura H (2017). "Diffuse Esophageal Spasm: Corkscrew Esophagus". Am. J. Med. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2017.08.041. PMID 28943381.
  6. Lassen JF, Jensen TM (1992). "[Corkscrew esophagus]". Ugeskr. Laeg. (in Danish). 154 (5): 277–80. PMID 1736462.
  7. Ruigómez A, García Rodríguez LA, Wallander MA, Johansson S, Eklund S (2006). "Esophageal stricture: incidence, treatment patterns, and recurrence rate". Am. J. Gastroenterol. 101 (12): 2685–92. doi:10.1111/j.1572-0241.2006.00828.x. PMID 17227515.
  8. Shami VM (2014). "Endoscopic management of esophageal strictures". Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 10 (6): 389–91. PMC 4080876. PMID 25013392.
  9. López Rodríguez MJ, Robledo Andrés P, Amarilla Jiménez A, Roncero Maíllo M, López Lafuente A, Arroyo Carrera I (2002). "Sideropenic dysphagia in an adolescent". J. Pediatr. Gastroenterol. Nutr. 34 (1): 87–90. PMID 11753173.
  10. Chisholm M (1974). "The association between webs, iron and post-cricoid carcinoma". Postgrad Med J. 50 (582): 215–9. PMC 2495558. PMID 4449772.
  11. Larsson LG, Sandström A, Westling P (1975). "Relationship of Plummer-Vinson disease to cancer of the upper alimentary tract in Sweden". Cancer Res. 35 (11 Pt. 2): 3308–16. PMID 1192404.

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