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What is Esophageal Motility?

Esophageal motility refers to the rhythmic contraction and relaxation of the muscles in the esophagus or food pipe to produce a wave-like motion that propels food and liquids from the mouth towards the stomach.

What is Esophageal Motility Disorder?

Esophageal contractions follow a regular and synchronized pattern to produce the wave-like motion which facilitates the movement of food. In some cases, these contractions become slowed, irregular or unsynchronized, which is referred to as a motility disorder. With esophageal motility disorder, foods and liquids do not easily pass down the esophagus causing problems with swallowing as well as other symptoms.

Causes of Esophageal Motility Disorder

An esophageal motility disorder may be associated with abnormalities of the esophagus including:  

  • Ulcer
  • Stricture
  • Irritation
  • Infection, inflammation
  • Cancer
  • Abnormal muscles or lack of muscle control and coordination such as achalasia (poor relaxation of the sphincter between the esophagus and stomach)

Symptoms of Esophageal Motility Disorder

Common signs and symptoms of esophageal motility disorders include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Heartburn
  • Regurgitation
  • Chest pain
  • Weight loss and malnutrition
  • Recurrent bouts of pneumonia

Diagnosis of Esophageal Motility Disorder

Your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history and perform a thorough physical examination to evaluate esophageal motility and identify other abnormalities. The following diagnostic tests may be performed for further evaluation:

  • Barium swallow study: A barium swallow test is a special type of imaging test that uses barium to produce a clear outline of the upper esophagus onX-ray images obtained while you are swallowing.
  • Endoscopy: An endoscopeis a thin tube with a camera that can beinserted through the mouth to look directly at the inner walls of the esophagus. 
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS): This is a procedure that combines endoscopy and ultrasound to produce images and provide information about the esophagus and its surrounding tissues and organs.
  • Esophageal manometry: This procedure is used to measure esophageal muscle function.
  • pH study: This study is done to detect the abnormal reflux of acidic stomach contents into the esophagus.

Treatment of Esophageal Motility Disorder

Treatment for esophageal motility disorder will depend on the type of disorder and its underlying cause. Some common treatments include:

  • Medications to reduce spasms of the esophageal muscles
  • Botox injections into the area of poor motility
  • Balloon dilation which involves dilating an area of stricture in the esophagus. It can beused to disrupt dysmotilityinthe lower esophagus due to achalasia.
  • Heller myotomy, a procedure in which the muscles of the lower esophageal sphincter are cut to allow food and liquids to pass to the stomach.
  • American Board of Internal Medicine
  • American Medical Association
  • American College of Gastroenterology
  • Texas Medical Association
  • Memorial Hermann Foundation
  • HCA Healthcare
  • Methodist Church
  • Howard University College of Medicine
  • American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
  • UT Health San Antonio