The effects of sublingual isosorbide dinitrate (5 mg) and nifedipine (20 mg) were compared in 15 patients with achalasia. The parameters examined included the manometric measurement of the lower esophageal sphincter pressure, the radionuclide assessment of esophageal emptying and the clinical response. The mean basal lower esophageal sphincter pressure fell significantly after both drugs (p less than 0.01), with a maximum fall of 63.5% 10 min after receiving isosorbide dinitrate, but by only 46.7% 30 min after nifedipine. The esophageal radionuclide test meal retention was significantly less (p less than 0.01) only after receiving isosorbide dinitrate. The drug improved initial esophageal emptying by its effect on the lower esophageal sphincter and by relieving the test meal hold-up noted to occur at the junction of the upper and midesophagus. Eight patients cleared their test meal within 10 min after isosorbide dinitrate administration while only two did so after nifedipine. Subjectively, 13 patients had their dysphagia relieved by isosorbide dinitrate and 8 by nifedipine. However, this relief was not confirmed in 4 patients by the radionuclide study and they, as well as the other 3 patients who did not respond to therapy, were referred to pneumatic dilatation. Side effects were more prominent after nitrates. Three of the patients are currently receiving nifedipine and 5 patients received isosorbide dinitrate therapy for 8-14 mo. The radionuclide test meal is currently the best way of objectively evaluating drug therapy in patients with achalasia. Isosorbide dinitrate is more effective than nifedipine in relieving their symptoms.