Objective: We aimed to evaluate the long term therapeutic outcome in achalasia patients treated with pneumatic dilation, specifically focusing on those patients treated more than 15 yr ago.
Methods: All patients treated in our center whose records were available for review were asked to fill out a questionnaire assessing their degree of dysphagia, retrosternal pain, regurgitation, weight loss, and coughing during the night. The number of dilations was collected from the clinical records. The results of the treatment were classified into four different classes (excellent, good, moderate, poor). For those patients who had died, the cause of death was ascertained from the medical records or from the general practitioner.
Results: The questionnaires were distributed to 249 patients, 32 of whom had died. Of the 125 patients who completed the questionnaire, 81 (45 male and 36 female) were treated more than 5 yr ago. The mean follow-up was 12+/-1 yr. The therapeutic success rate was 50%, obtained after a median of four dilations (interquartile range = 3-6). Of this cohort, 25 patients (18 male and seven female, aged 35-84 yr) were treated more than 15 yr ago (mean follow-up = 20.5+/-0.5 yr). The median number of dilations was four (interquartile range = 3-7), with a therapeutic success rate of 40%. Two patients experienced a perforation, and seven were referred for surgery. Six patients out of 32 (19%) died of esophageal cancer.
Conclusions: The long term success rate of pneumatic dilation is rather low, resulting in permanent successful treatment of achalasia in only 40-50% of patients. Achalasia is a risk factor for esophageal cancer.