Cricopharyngeal dysfunction in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Chest. 1990 Feb;97(2):347-52. doi: 10.1378/chest.97.2.347.


Dysphagia due to cricopharyngeal dysfunction is well known; however, there have been no previous data indicating an association between cricopharyngeal dysfunction and COPD. After observing marked cricopharyngeal dysfunction with aspiration in three patients who had frequent and severe exacerbations of COPD, we performed pharyngoesophageal examinations with videotaping in another 22 nonrandomized patients. Cineradiography or videofluoroscopic recording with capabilities of slow-motion and freeze-frame playback is mandatory, since the transit time of the bolus through the pharynx is rapid. Severe cricopharyngeal dysfunction was observed in 17 elderly patients with COPD. Deglutition disorders were elicited by careful questioning in 15 of these. In eight subjects, cricopharyngeal myotomy resulted in improvement of swallowing and complete or partial relief of acute exacerbations of respiratory distress. In one subject, myotomy relieved only the swallowing problem. The mechanism of cricopharyngeal dysfunction in elderly patients with COPD is unknown at this time, but may be related to gastroesophageal reflux, therapeutic agents, and/or alterations in pharyngoesophageal anatomic structures. We conclude that investigations for swallowing disorders should be considered in patients with COPD who have frequent acute exacerbations of respiratory distress.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Deglutition / physiology
  • Deglutition Disorders / etiology*
  • Deglutition Disorders / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / complications*
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Muscles / physiopathology*
  • Pharyngeal Muscles / physiopathology*
  • Pharyngeal Muscles / surgery
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / etiology