Cricoid pressure displaces the esophagus: an observational study using magnetic resonance imaging

Anesthesiology. 2003 Jul;99(1):60-4. doi: 10.1097/00000542-200307000-00013.


Background: Cricoid pressure (CP) is often used during general anesthesia induction to prevent passive regurgitation of gastric contents. The authors used magnetic resonance imaging to determine the anatomic relationship between the esophagus and the cricoid cartilage ("cricoid") with and without CP.

Methods: Magnetic resonance images of the necks of 22 healthy volunteers were reviewed with and without CP. Esophageal and airway dimensions, distance between the midline of the vertebral body and the midline of the esophagus, and distance between the lateral border of the cricoid or vertebral body and the lateral border of the esophagus were measured.

Results: The esophagus was displaced laterally relative to the cricoid in 52.6% of necks without CP and 90.5% with CP. CP shifted the esophagus relative to its initial position to the left in 68.4% of subjects and to the right in 21.1% of subjects. Unopposed esophagus was seen in 47.4% of necks without CP and 71.4% with CP. Lateral laryngeal displacement and airway compression were demonstrated in 66.7% and 81.0% of necks, respectively, as a result of CP.

Conclusion: In the absence of CP, the esophagus was lateral to the cricoid in more than 50% of the sample. CP further displaced both the esophagus and the larynx laterally.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cricoid Cartilage / anatomy & histology
  • Cricoid Cartilage / physiology*
  • Esophagus / anatomy & histology
  • Esophagus / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Observer Variation
  • Pressure
  • Reference Values