Age-Related Changes in Pharyngeal Lumen Size: A Retrospective MRI Analysis

Dysphagia. 2015 Jun;30(3):321-7. doi: 10.1007/s00455-015-9602-9. Epub 2015 Mar 7.


Age-related loss of muscle bulk and strength (sarcopenia) is often cited as a potential mechanism underlying age-related changes in swallowing. Our goal was to explore this phenomenon in the pharynx, specifically, by measuring pharyngeal wall thickness and pharyngeal lumen area in a sample of young versus older women. MRI scans of the neck were retrospectively reviewed from 60 women equally stratified into three age groups (20s, 60s, 70+). Four de-identified slices were extracted per scan for randomized, blinded analysis: one mid-sagittal and three axial slices were selected at the anterior inferior border of C2 and C3, and at the pit of the vallecula. Pixel-based measures of pharyngeal wall thickness and pharyngeal lumen area were completed using ImageJ and then converted to metric units. Measures of pharyngeal wall thickness and pharyngeal lumen area were compared between age groups with one-way ANOVAs using Sidak adjustments for post-hoc pairwise comparisons. A significant main effect for age was observed across all variables whereby pharyngeal wall thickness decreased and pharyngeal lumen area increased with advancing age. Pairwise comparisons revealed significant differences between 20s versus 70+ for all variables and 20s versus 60s for all variables except those measured at C2. Effect sizes ranged from 0.54 to 1.34. Consistent with existing sacropenia literature, the pharyngeal muscles appear to atrophy with age and consequently, the size of the pharyngeal lumen increases.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Pharyngeal Muscles / anatomy & histology
  • Pharyngeal Muscles / physiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Young Adult