A retrospective cohort study was performed to assess risk factors, early clinical characteristics, and outcome of complications in patients undergoing pneumatic dilation. Of 178 patients with achalasia or diffuse esophageal spasm who underwent 236 dilations with a Browne-McHardy dilator, 16 patients experienced a complication (9.0%). Nine major complications developed: perforations (4), hematemesis (2), fever (2), and angina (1). A prior pneumatic dilation and use of inflation pressure > or = 11 PSI were independent risk factors by multivariate analysis for developing a complication. An esophagram immediately following the dilation identified three of the four perforations. Three postdilation findings were identified as indicators of patients with an increased risk of having developed a perforation: blood on the dilator, tachycardia, and prolonged chest pain lasting > 4 hr after dilation. In all patients incurring a major complication, one of the three indicators, or the complication itself was recognized within 5 hr of dilation. All patients with complications, including the four with perforation who received prompt surgical repair and esophagomyotomy, recovered uneventfully. The symptomatic relief of dysphagia in patients with perforation undergoing emergent surgical repair and esophagomyotomy was similar to patients undergoing elective esophagomyotomy.
Conclusions: (1) Pneumatic dilation is a safe treatment of achalasia, with a 1.7% risk of perforation. (2) The risk of developing a complication is increased by having had a previous pneumatic dilation or by use of inflation pressures > or = 11 psi. (3) All patients with a major complication were identified within 5 hr after dilation. (4) Complications following pneumatic dilation, if recognized and treated promptly, were not associated with adverse, long-term sequelae.