Effect of esophageal emptying and saliva on clearance of acid from the esophagus

N Engl J Med. 1984 Feb 2;310(5):284-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198402023100503.


We studied clearance of acid from the esophagus and esophageal emptying in normal subjects. A 15-ml bolus of 0.1 N hydrochloric acid (pH 1.2) radiolabeled with [99mTc]sulfur colloid was injected into the esophagus, and the subject swallowed every 30 seconds. Concurrent manometry and radionuclide imaging showed nearly complete emptying of acid from the esophagus by an immediate secondary peristaltic sequence, although esophageal pH did not rise until the first swallow 30 seconds later. Esophageal pH then returned to normal by a series of step increases, each associated with a swallow-induced peristaltic sequence. Saliva stimulation by an oral lozenge shortened the time required for acid clearance, whereas aspiration of saliva from the mouth abolished acid clearance. Saliva stimulation or aspiration did not affect the virtually complete emptying of acid volume by the initial peristaltic sequence. We conclude that esophageal acid clearance normally occurs as a two-step process: (1) Virtually all acid volume is emptied from the esophagus by one or two peristaltic sequences, leaving a minimal residual amount that sustains a low pH, and (2) residual acid is neutralized by swallowed saliva.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acids / metabolism*
  • Adult
  • Deglutition
  • Esophagus / diagnostic imaging
  • Esophagus / metabolism
  • Esophagus / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrochloric Acid
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Male
  • Manometry
  • Peristalsis
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Saliva / physiology*
  • Technetium


  • Acids
  • Technetium
  • Hydrochloric Acid