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For people living with swallowing disorders, feeling a choking sensation when they eat or drink is a common occurrence. But there is a newer, less invasive treatment option, people can find relief from these troublesome symptoms and gain a better quality of life.

The swallowing disorder, more commonly known as achalasia, is a condition in which the sphincter muscle between the esophagus and stomach does not function properly. As a result, food cannot pass through the esophagus to the stomach. This causes difficulty swallowing, regurgitation and vomiting, and even chest pain during meals. It’s also linked to weight loss and malnutrition.

Dr. Michael Karasik, a gastroenterologist affiliated with Hartford Hospital, is one of only a handful of doctors in the country offering a procedure called POEM, which stands for Peroral Endoscopic Myotomy.

In the POEM procedure, a flexible tube called an endoscope is passed through the mouth to the esophagus. From there, it enters the middle wall layer to create a tunnel down to the sphincter muscle and into the stomach wall. Once this tract is made, the underlying muscle layer can be safely cut to eliminate the spasm causing the patient’s symptoms and allow food to more easily pass from the esophagus to the stomach.

Patients are often discharged from the hospital the very next day and with little to no pain. Although they need to restrict their diet immediately following the procedure, they are able to eat regular food again in about two weeks.

Only a handful of hospitals offer this less-invasive approach to treating swallowing disorders. The technique, which originated in Japan, has been performed in the United States for the last few years.

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