Achalasia: diagnosis and management

Semin Gastrointest Dis. 1999 Jul;10(3):103-12.


Achalasia is a primary esophageal motor disorder of unknown cause that produces complaints of dysphagia, regurgitation, and chest pain. The current treatments for achalasia involve the reduction of lower esophageal sphincter (LES) pressure, resulting in improved esophageal emptying. Calcium channel blockers and nitrates, once used as an initial treatment strategy for early achalasia, are now used only in patients who are not candidates for pneumatic dilation or surgery, and in patients who do not respond to botulinum toxin injections. Because of the more rigid balloons, the current pneumatic dilators are more effective than the older, more compliant balloons. The graded approach to pneumatic dilation, using the Rigiflex (Boston Scientific Corp, Boston, MA) balloons (3.0, 3.5, and 4.0 cm) is now the most commonly used nonsurgical means of treating patients with achalasia, resulting in symptom improvement in up to 90% of patients. Surgical myotomy, once plagued by high morbidity and long hospital stay, can now be performed laparoscopically, with similar efficacy to the open surgical approach (94% versus 84%, respectively), reduced morbidity, and reduced hospitalization time. Because of the advances in both balloon dilation and laparoscopic myotomy, most patients with achalasia can now choose between these two equally efficacious treatment options. Botulinum toxin injection of the LES should be reserved for patients who can not undergo balloon dilation and are not surgical candidates.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Algorithms
  • Barium Sulfate
  • Botulinum Toxins, Type A / therapeutic use
  • Catheterization*
  • Contrast Media
  • Deglutition Disorders / etiology
  • Esophageal Achalasia / complications
  • Esophageal Achalasia / diagnosis*
  • Esophageal Achalasia / therapy*
  • Esophagus / diagnostic imaging
  • Esophagus / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Manometry
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiography


  • Contrast Media
  • Barium Sulfate
  • Botulinum Toxins, Type A