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Balloon Dilatation (for Achalasia)

What is balloon dilatation?
Why would a doctor recommend balloon dilatation?
What does balloon dilatation involve?
How long is the recovery after balloon dilatation?

What is balloon dilatation?

At the bottom of your esophagus - the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach - is a band of muscles that opens and shuts when you swallow. This allows food into the stomach, and then keeps the stomach's contents from rising into the esophagus during digestion. In achalasia, these muscles grow weak and do not open the right way when you swallow.

In balloon dilatation, a doctor opens the band of muscles at the bottom of the esophagus with a small balloon. This allows a patient with achalasia to again swallow normally.

Why would a doctor recommend balloon dilatation?

Balloon dilatation is one of three ways of treating achalasia. It offers longer-term relief than a botulinum toxin injection, and the procedure is faster and not as expensive as an operation to repair the band of muscles at the bottom of the esophagus.

What does balloon dilatation involve?

You will be sedated during the procedure, and will feel no pain. The doctor will gently push an endoscope - a long, narrow tube with lights and a tiny video camera at the end - down your throat and into your esophagus. Using the images produced by the endoscope, the doctor will guide a small, inflatable balloon into the band of muscles at the bottom of your esophagus. He or she will then inflate the balloon for about a minute, which stretches and weakens the muscles. This will help you again swallow normally.

This procedure can be very successful in treating achalasia, and can provide relief from its symptoms for as long as a decade. Because the balloon may rip the muscles at the bottom of the esophagus, it can cause pain, and may rupture the esophagus in rare cases. If this happens, surgery may be needed to fix the rupture.

Dilation can be repeated if a patient again has trouble swallowing, but the procedure tends to be less successful each time it is performed.

How long is the recovery after balloon dilatation?

The procedure requires a short hospital stay.

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