Responses of the cricopharyngeal sphincter to graded intraluminal distension were studied in order to determine its response threshold and to define the functional relationship between the sphincter and oesophageal body. Nine normal subjects underwent manometric study using a multilumen tube with an attached inflatable balloon sited 10 cm below the sphincter. Sphincteric and oesophageal motor responses to six graded balloon inflations were recorded in each subject. The sphincter responded to distension with increasing rise in pressure, from a median value of 42.5 mmHg at lowest levels of distension to 95 mmHg at maximal tolerated distension. Non-swallow related contractile activity was stimulated in the oesophageal body proximal to the distension and increased in quantity as inflation progressed. Distal propagation of this secondary activity was progressively inhibited with increasing distension. These interrelated changes thus show the normal upper oesophageal clearance responses to intraluminal distension. It is suggested that their more widespread application, in addition to standard manometric techniques, might provide a more rational evaluation of those patients suspected to have impaired oesophageal clearance, but in whom standard manometry is non-diagnostic.
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