Achalasia is considered a primary motility disorder confined to the oesophagus. The lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) in achalasia is frequently hypertonic and manifests absent or incomplete relaxation in response to deglution. On the other hand, the LOS and the proximal stomach act physiologically as a functional unit whereby relaxation of the LOS during deglution is associated with receptive relaxation of the proximal stomach. Thus, this study investigated the hypothesis that impaired LOS relaxation in patients with achalasia might be associated with impaired relaxation of the proximal stomach. The study consisted of 20 patients with achalasia and 10 healthy controls. Gastric tone variations were quantified using an electronic barostat. Firstly, the study established the basal gastric tone (intragastric volume at the minimal distending pressure+1 mm Hg) and gastric compliance (volume/pressure relation) during isobaric distension (increasing stepwise the intragastric pressure from 0 to 20 mm Hg up to 600 ml). Secondly, the gastric tone response to cold stress (hand immersion into ice water for five minutes) or to control stimuli (water at 37 degrees) was determined. Basal gastric tone mean (SEM) was similar in achalasia and in healthy controls (125 (9) ml v 138 (9) ml, respectively). Compliance was linear and similar in both groups, which also showed similar gastric extension ratios (58 (7) ml/mm Hg v 57 (6) ml/mm Hg). Cold stress induced a gastric relaxatory response that, as a group, was significantly lower in achalasia than in healthy controls (volume: 43 (20) ml v 141 (42) ml; p < 0.05). The responses in each group were not uniform, five of the 20 patients with achalasia showed definite (volume > 100 ml) relaxatory responses whereas four of the 10 healthy controls did not. In conclusion, reflex gastric relaxation is impaired in most patients with achalasia showing that the proximal stomach, and not exclusively the oesophagus, may be effected by the disease.